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The Sciences

Did Neanderthals Eat Seafood? Neanderthals Cooked and Ate Crab Off the Coast of Portugal

Most people are unaware that some Neanderthals ate seafood. A new study shines light on Neanderthal diets on the Iberian Peninsula.

By Mac StoneFeb 20, 2023 3:00 PM
Cooked brown crab
Cooked brown crab not found in the study. (Credit: yuda chen/Shutterstock)


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Archaeologists working in a seafront cave in Portugal have discovered the remains of various shellfish, including numerous brown crabs, where Neanderthals lived around 90,000 years ago. The finding suggests that Neanderthals were cooking and eating crab and shellfish meat.

More specifically, according to the new study published in Frontiers in Environmental Archaeology, the Neanderthals living on the Iberian Peninsula hunted and ate mostly larger adult crabs. This suggests Neanderthals knew larger crabs provided more sustenance.

Did Neanderthals Eat Seafood?

Along with the brown crab remains, researchers found remnants of the various shellfish Neanderthals ate, including limpets, mussels and clams. The seafront cave is known as Gruta da Figueira Brava and sits about 20 miles south of Lisbon, Portugal, just off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

Given the proximity to the sea, researchers suggested Neanderthals resorted to hunting in the shallow waters, rather than moving inland. Findings in Gruta da Figueira Brava demonstrate that Neanderthals cooked the shellfish and crab over coals and then broke them open to eat the meat that was inside.

Read More: Which Animals Did Early Humans Mainly Hunt?

How Do We Know Neanderthals Ate Shellfish?

Researchers could deduce that Neanderthals were responsible for the shellfish remains due to the type of damage observed on the shells. According to the study, the crack marks on the shells are similar to when a person eats a crab today. Additionally, the patterns of damage on the shells don’t reflect damage that a bird or another animal would create.

“Our results add an extra nail to the coffin of the obsolete notion that Neanderthals were primitive cave dwellers who could barely scrape a living off scavenged big-game carcasses,” says study author Mariana Nabais in a press release.

Read More: Ancient Predators: A Guide to the Neanderthal Hunt

Other Neanderthal Diets and Habits

Researchers are learning more about the Neanderthal diet and the recent findings in Gruta da Figueira Brava helps shed new light. Other studies over the last few years have also uncovered that Neanderthals adapted to various environments and hunted different kinds of animals.

A study published in February 2022, found that Neanderthals could hunt and take down adult straight-tusked elephants, which could weigh up to 13 tons. Neanderthals were likely able to feed hundreds of people with these carcasses. And a November 2022 study revealed that Neanderthals cooked meals that included plants such as lentils, which still exist in our diets today.

Whether Neanderthals were munching on crab, or cooking elephant meat, new research surrounding their diets always gives us a closer glimpse into what life was like for this ancient species.

Read More: Neanderthals Hunted and Ate Straight-Tusked Elephants

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