Neanderthals had a taste for seafood

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The last of the Neanderthals feasted on warmed mussels, baby seals and washed-up dolphins, according to fossil hunters working in ancient seaside caves in Gibraltar.

Excavations in the giant Gorham's and Vanguard caves on the Rock's eastern flank unearthed flint stone tools and remnants of seafood meals alongside the long-dead embers of hearths, which have been carbon-dated to around 28,000 years ago.

The findings suggest that Neanderthals who lived in the caves exploited the plentiful resources that the Mediterranean shoreline provided, and may help explain why groups living in Gibraltar clung on to life while those elsewhere became extinct around 7,000 years earlier.

An international team led by Chris Stringer at the Natural History Museum in London and Clive Finlayson at the Gibraltar Museum uncovered bones and shells that had clearly been butchered with primitive cutting and stripping tools.

Among the remains of wild boar, red deer, ibex and bears, they found bones and shells from monk seals, dolphins and mussels. Many of the bones had sustained damage from cutting and peeling, while the mussels had apparently been warmed on a fire to open them up.

Today the caves are just 10 metres from the water's edge, but 30,000 years ago, when ice was still locked up in vast sheets to the north, the sea would have been 1-2 kilometres away, across sand dunes and woodland.

Gorham's cave, the larger of the two, is 35m high at the entrance and goes back more than 100m into the rock. Several smaller caverns that lead off the main cave have yet to be excavated.

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