Birds in the Neanderthal ecological niche - using birds from Pleistocene cave archives to characterise the relationship between Neanderthals and birds

Finlayson, Stewart (2019) Birds in the Neanderthal ecological niche - using birds from Pleistocene cave archives to characterise the relationship between Neanderthals and birds. Doctoral thesis, Anglia Ruskin University.

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Aspects of Neanderthal and modern human behaviour and ecology, particularly their relationship with birds are investigated. Birds are good indicators of climate and habitat and are frequently present in Neanderthal sites. This permitted the characterisation of Neanderthal habitats and climate, important given current questions about their ability to tolerate cold climates and tundra, which has implications when explaining their extinction as climate-caused. In addition, the inability of Neanderthals to catch birds has been used to support models of superior modern human cognitive capacity. Given recent published results showing Neanderthal exploitation of birds, a reassessment was considered necessary. A database of hominin sites and associated bird species was created. Bird species were assigned to specific climatic and habitat categories which permitted analyses of the climates and habitats occupied by Neanderthals and modern humans during the last glacial cycle (125 – 10 thousand years ago), the period when the two hominin taxa came into contact in Eurasia. The principal bird species associated with Neanderthals were identified and their taxonomic, behavioural and ecological features recognised. Finally, a database of bird species known to have been processed by Neanderthals was created from published sources. Both multivariate and univariate statistics were used to analyse the data including novel applications of PCA in this area. The results showed that Neanderthals were temperate climate hominins that rarely occupied extremely cold climates and open habitats. They occupied habitat mosaics where they regularly exploited a non-random suite of bird species, characterised by particular taxonomic, behavioural and ecological characteristics. The evidence presented here shows that, in terms of climate tolerance, habitat occupation and bird species exploitation, Neanderthals overlapped broadly with modern humans. Neanderthals had skills and abilities capable of despatching a wide range of birds and they were selective in the species that they took. This evidence calls into question models of modern human superiority as the cause of the Neanderthal extinction, and appears to support climate factors instead.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Keywords: Neanderthal, Mousterian, Birds, Palaearctic, Pleistocene, Taphonomy
Faculty: Theses from Anglia Ruskin University
Depositing User: Lisa Blanshard
Date Deposited: 16 Sep 2020 12:20
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2021 18:54

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