Posts Tagged ‘Iberia’

Rabbits (or a lack thereof) killed off the Neanderthals!

March 4, 2013

A new paper in the Journal of Human Evolution claims that the diet of the Neanderthals contained far fewer rabbits than that of Modern Humans. The paper then suggests that this was because Neanderthals could not shift from hunting large prey to hunting small animals. The data may well be valid but the interpretations of the data and the conclusions drawn are so lacking in common sense that the entire paper may well qualify as “idiot science”.

Rabbits and hominin survival in Iberia

by John E. Fa, John R. Stewart, Lluís Lloveras and J. Mario Vargas


High dependence on the hunting and consumption of large mammals by some hominins may have limited their survival once their preferred quarry became scarce or disappeared. Adaptation to smaller residual prey would have been essential after the many large-bodied species decreased in numbers. We focus on the use of a superabundant species, the rabbit, to demonstrate the importance of this taxon in Iberia as fundamental to predators. We show that the use of the rabbit over time has increased, and that there could have been differential consumption by Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH). Analysis of bone remains from excavations throughout Iberia show that this lagomorph was a crucial part of the diet of AMH but was relatively unutilised during the Mousterian, when Neanderthals were present. We first present changes in mammalian biomass and mean body mass of mammals over 50,000 years, to illustrate the dramatic loss of large mammalian fauna and to show how the rabbit may have contributed a consistently high proportion of the available game biomass throughout that period. Unlike the Italian Peninsula and other parts of Europe, in Iberia the rabbit has provided a food resource of great importance for predators including hominins. We suggest that hunters that could shift focus to rabbits and other smaller residual fauna, once larger-bodied species decreased in numbers, would have been able to persist. From the evidence presented here, we postulate that Neanderthals may have been less capable of prey-shifting and hence use the high-biomass prey resource provided by the rabbit, to the extent AMH did.

painting of prehistoric hunters

Prehistoric hunters prepare to unleash their throwing sticks at a group of jack rabbits on the run. Painting by Nola Davis, courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

That Anatomically Modern Humans ate more rabbits than Neanderthals may well be true but to then leap to the amazing conclusion that Neanderthals were incapable of hunting small prey and then to the even more dubious suggestion that this may have something to do with the demise of Neanderthals as a species takes legitimate speculation into the fantasy worlds of the Land of Painted Caves. We could just as well assume that eating rabbits led to a virulent disease which AMH were immune to but which led to the eradication of the Neanderthal species (except of course for the offspring of those who had mated with AMH) !!

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