Researchers position-played as Neandertals to learn how they hunted birds

Juan Negro crouched in the shadows just outside a cave, sporting his headlamp. For a quick minute, he wasn’t a scientist. He was a Neandertal, intent on catching dinner. As Negro waited in the chilly, darkish evening, crowlike birds named choughs entered the cave. Negro the “Neandertal” then snuck in and started to hunt.

He was position-enjoying to examine Neandertals’ looking ways. Neandertals were being an historical species closely associated to contemporary human beings. These hominids lived in Europe and Asia hundreds of yrs in the past. Scientists have identified piles of chough bones in some caves visited by Neandertals. The bones have marks remaining by historical equipment and enamel. That instructed these ancient tolk chowed down on the birds.

a person inside a building attempting to catch a bird
Scientists in Spain tried to capture choughs with their bare palms in roosting web sites this sort of as this setting up. The effort and hard work was aspect of an experiment to see if Neandertals could have properly hunted the birds.J.M. García

Negro and his colleagues questioned: How may well Neandertals have caught this prey?

These historical hunters possibly went following choughs at night, the researchers thought. These birds are tricky to catch whilst they are traveling throughout the day. But at evening, their habits turns them into sitting down ducks. The birds roost in groups and often return to the exact same place — even if they’ve been hunted there prior to.

To take a look at this strategy, Negro and his colleagues pretended to be Neandertals. The researchers armed themselves with butterfly nets and lamps. These resources had been stand-ins for the nets and hearth that Neandertals could have used. In teams of two to 10, the researchers snuck into caves and other spots throughout Spain exactly where choughs roost. Then, the experts labored to catch as a lot of birds as they could.

Applying flashes of gentle from flashlights to mimic fire, the “Neandertals” dazzled and perplexed the choughs. The birds frequently fled into dead-finish spots of the caves. There, they could be conveniently caught with bare fingers. Searching journeys to 70 sites snared far more than 5,500 birds in all. Afterwards, the birds ended up unveiled unharmed. The researchers described their exploits in the September Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

Negro states this was “the most enjoyable piece of research” he’s at any time finished. Negro is an ornithologist, so he appreciates birds. He works at Spain’s Nationwide Study Council’s Doñana Biological Station. That is in Seville.

Choughs can be caught without the need of fancy equipment, this experiment showed. Looking them just requires teamwork and the include of night time. Neandertals could have utilised this strategy to seize choughs, the researchers say. But whether Neandertals basically caught birds this way remains mysterious.

If this is how Neandertals hunted, these historic hominids were being cleverer than they are often presented credit score for.

several black birds inside a sack
This sack comprehensive of pink-billed choughs was captured as section of an experiment to see if Neandertals could have hunted these birds. Afterward, these birds have been produced unharmed.Guillermo Blanco

Often catching choughs would call for various varieties of smarts, states Ruth Blasco. She’s an skilled in Neandertal diet plan at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution. Which is in Tarragona, Spain. Neandertals would have experienced to be ready to foresee their long run nutritional requirements. Then they’d require to devise a looking technique. And that would demand a deep understanding of chough behavior, Blasco states.

Job-playing for study isn’t as unusual as it seems, Blasco notes. It is “commonly employed … to infer processes that took place in the past.” Other researchers have pretended to be Neandertals employing replicas of wooden spears. People experiments showed that Neandertals could have hurled the weapons to hunt prey at a distance.

Negro’s workforce used butterfly nets to catch birds fleeing via cave openings. But “the most straightforward point was to get the birds by hand,” Negro says.

“You have to be intelligent to seize these animals, to process them, to roast and take in them,” he notes. Past scientific tests have demonstrated that Neandertals may possibly also have been good at catching seafood. Most folks “tend to imagine that [Neandertals] were brutes with no intelligence,” Negro states. “In point,” he says, “evidence is accumulating that they have been quite near to [human].”