London, September 23 : Anthropologists have discovered ancient seal bones showing signs of butchery, as well as some dolphin remains, in two caves in Gibraltar, Spain, which suggests that Neanderthals were intelligent and adaptable hunters, who used to feast on seals and dolphins.
According to a report in New Scientist, an international team of anthropologists who discovered and analyzed the marine mammal bones.
The discovery bolsters the image of Neanderthals as intelligent and adaptable hunters, rather than knuckle-dragging brutes
"Neanderthals could not have been that stupid and dumb," said Clive Finlayson of the Gibraltar Museum. "These people probably had a pretty good knowledge of the seasons and when to go hunting," he added.
Finlayson and his colleague Yolanda Fernandez-Jalvo, of Madrid's National Museum of Natural Sciences, discovered the bones in two cliff-base caves overlooking the Atlantic Ocean: Gorham's cave and Vanguard cave.
The sites, dating to around 40,000 years ago, also contain signs of hearths, tool-making and the remains of molluscs, boars and bears.
Yet the bones of seals and two species of dolphins are a something of a mystery, according to Finlayson. The seal bones, at least, have cut marks indicating they were butchered.
"We can pretty confidently say they're eating them," said Finlayson.
But, the dolphin bones show no signs butchery, perhaps because the Neanderthals hunted them for fat.
According to Erik Trinkaus, a human palaeontologist at Washington University in St Louis, even more mysterious is how Neanderthals managed to capture seals and dolphins.
"Seals have a very good escape mechanism. It's called swimming," he said.
Neanderthals may have hunted young seals during the breeding season, when they were more likely to be found near land, while beached dolphins would have been easy prey for the spear-wielding hunters.
The variety of animals found in the caves might also explain why coastal-dwelling Neanderthals in the Iberian Peninsula survived long after their inland brethren went extinct.
"What I think this shows is that they had a mixed economy," said Finlayson. "If you had series of years with droughts and there was a shortage of deer or goats, you had fallbacks," he added.