Neanderthals: Were They Clam Divers?

To Craft Cutting Tools, Neanderthals Dove for Clam Shells on the Ocean Floor

Clam shells, likely collected from live clams, would have made for naturally sharp cutting tools. (Villa et al., 2020)

by Meghan Gannon,

Archaeological evidence has upended our image of Neanderthals in the last couple of decades. We’ve learned that these extinct human relatives may have decorated their bodies, buried their dead and even created art. These behaviors make them seem much more like our own species, Homo sapiens than previously believed. And according to a new study in the journal PLOS ONE, we can add another skill to the Neanderthals’ resume: diving for clams.

About 90,000 years ago, Neanderthals living on the Italian Peninsula between what is now Rome and Naples waded offshore into the Mediterranean Sea. Seeking clamshells, they reached their hands underwater, and perhaps even held their breath to swim down to the sandy seafloor. Back on the beach, they broke open the mollusks and maybe enjoyed eating some of the raw meat inside, but they were primarily interested in the shells themselves.

With thin, sharp edges, these shells were essentially natural knives. Instead of spending the better part of a day carving blades from hunks of rock, Neanderthals could find the tools by venturing to the beach. They might have gathered some dead and dried out clams that had washed up on the shore, …..

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  1. As Hunter gatherers I understand that Old Bay seasoning and wedges of lemon were found in the dig. Here in Maryland we have piles of oyster shells from ancient camps. Maybe it was lunch.

    • I have never heard of any clam digger having to “dive” for clams. Ask any clam digger. There are plenty around.

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