Scientists Have Discovered That Transitional Hominins Were Hunting For Small Prey 400,000 Years Ago

Paleoanthropologists studying eight sites scattered over southern Europe have discovered the remains of now extinct rabbits that were hunted by archaic hominins between 40,000 to 400,000 years ago.

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Paleoanthropologists studying eight sites scattered over southern Europe have discovered the remains of now extinct rabbits that were hunted by archaic hominins between 40,000 to 400,000 years ago.

Scientists have recently made the surprising discovery that not only were Neanderthals and early humans eating fast food, but transitional hominins who lived up to 400,000 years ago were also hunting for small and fast prey like rabbits and hares.

As Haaretz reports, while this new discovery does not necessarily mean that all hominins, Neanderthals, and archaic humans were actively pursuing and consuming rabbits, hares, and other small prey thousands of years ago, fresh evidence has revealed that this was the case in at least eight different sites scattered over France, Italy, and Spain, with these sites populated from between 40,000 to 400,000 years ago.

A research team headed up by paleoanthropologist Eugène Morin from Trent University in Peterborough, Canada, have learned that while some ancient hunters were indeed still killing deer and goats tens to hundreds of thousands of years ago, there was an eventual shift to killing much smaller game like rabbits and hares, which appears to have spread to different regions around southern Europe.

For instance, Morin’s team investigated 21 different stone tools and the fossils of animals around the south of France and learned that the vast majority of these contained the remains of leporids, which are a now extinct group of hares and rabbits. In fact, these small animals appeared to be so widely hunted that 17 fossil sets were found to still hold butcher marks used by stone tools thousands of years ago.

At Terra Amata, which was the oldest site surveyed, very close to half of all of the animal remains from 400,000 years ago were classified as leporids, while the findings were much the same for much newer sites that were dated back to 60,000 years ago.

Morin’s team believes that it was most likely easier for different homo groups to hunt for rabbits around Mediterranean sites like Spain and Italy as these rabbits were most likely found in abundance at that time, with colony-dwelling rabbits in particular suspected to be much easier to catch and kill than hares, which don’t roam in packs.

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However, from 40,000 years ago and moving forward, it is believed that these hares would have been much more easily hunted and that around 11,500 years ago hominins would have used dogs in their pursuit of these animals.

As Morin stated, “All across Europe, hominins and, later, the Neanderthals preferred to hunt ungulates, including the northwest Mediterranean region. But in the northwest Mediterranean, they also exploited small fast game during periods of food shortage to enhance their chance of survival. If archaic Homo had not been ready to expand their diet breadth during periods of food shortage, than they would have systematically ignored rabbits and small fast game even when they abounded, as was presumably the case in the northwestern Mediterranean region.”

The new study on the discovery that early hominins hunted for small prey like rabbits and hares in southern Europe has been published in Science Advances.