Tuesday, October 11, 2011

History: Paleolithic Seafood

Besides their common provisions of boucan (salt pork), salted sea turtle, and salted manatee, they ate fresh sea turtle, manatee, pork, goat (especially good with cabbage), beef, iguana, various fowl, limpets, mussels, oysters, and various fish including shark but especially jewfish (Goliath grouper) and dolphin (also called dorado or gilt-head, today most commonly known as mahimahi). ~ from The Buccaneer’s Realm, Pirate Life on the Spanish Main, 1674-1688 by Benerson Little

There’s no question that our seafaring ancestors enjoyed seafood. First it makes perfect sense; if you make your living on the ocean, the availability of seafood is going to be pretty good in most cases. Second, human beings – like most animals – crave foods rich in what their bodies need. High in protein but generally easy to catch, particularly when one is dealing with shellfish and turtle, seafood is also a good source of omega three fatty acids and when cooked in seawater it can replace electrolytes lost through exertion and sweat. Really, a nice seafood stew is a perfect meal for a hard working sailor.

New research by a team of anthropologists at Seville University in Spain has turned up evidence that Neanderthals were probably just as fond of a good shellfish as buccaneers.

According to this article from telegraph.co.uk, scientists have found evidence of burned mussel shells and barnacles at a site long used as an encampment by Neanderthals in southern Spain. Cueva Bajondillo is on Andalusia’s southern coast not far from the ancient port of Malaga on the Mediterranean, and the remains of shellfish there are a pretty good indicator that the locals were regularly consuming the bounty of the sea.

Evidently this is news to modern anthropologists. The article indicates that the finds “provide evidence for the exploitation of coastal resources by Neanderthals at a much earlier time than any of those previously reported…” According to the article, the shells found in Andalusia date back to about 150,000 years ago. This would correspond to similar finds dating to about the same era from the coast of South Africa, making European Neanderthal behavior analogous to early homo sapiens behavior in Africa.

Thus it seems that our ancestors, be they homo sapiens, Neanderthal or – as it now appears – a little bit of both, enjoyed a good seafood chowder. And then they passed that appetite on to those who braved the ocean in ships. It’s little things like this that make history so enjoyable.

Header: Shells found at Cueva de los Aviones, Spain which have been drilled for use as jewelry by Neanderthals via CBCNews


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! That makes perfect sense to me, too. I'm not sure why this would be so surprising to these scientists, but hey, there you go...

Pauline said...

I'm not certain why that is either. At a hunter/gatherer level of civilization, whatever you can gather (that won't poison you) goes in the pot, I should think.

Charles L. Wallace said...

Someone always had to be the first to try something, and I'd love to hear the stories. Imagine the first guy to try a sea anemone, for example! Of course, some of them DID get poisoned.

Pauline said...

I think about that every time I see an oyster. Somebody had the stones to try one of those ugly things and then tell their pals it was good.