Neanderthals built their own fireplaces where they used to cook food on a regular basis, similar to modern humans: study

Neanderthals built their own fireplaces where they used to cook food on a regular basis, similar to modern humans: study
Chunky creatures with limited intelligence and no flair, you say? Tsk. If the Neanderthals were privy to our current portrayal of them, they might well scoff at our gross misinterpretation from behind their monocles.

Thankfully, with enhanced tools for comprehending our ancestral human counterparts, our perception of Neanderthals is evolving. The more we uncover about them, the more fascinating they become. For instance, a recent study reveals that these hominids hunted Eurasian cave lions, which dwarfed modern-day lions in size!

Moreover, after two decades of comprehensive research, another study has confirmed what scientists had long suspected: Neanderthals possessed the ability to ignite fires and use them to prepare delectable meals. In addition, they adorned their bodies with artistic ornaments.

We Inherited It from the Neanderthals

Two aspects that modern humans absolutely cannot overlook are food and fashion. Interestingly, these hominids were not so different from us, and our inclination for fine dining and personal adornment is not as unique as we may think.

Between 1989 and 2012, archaeologists conducted excavations at Gruta de Oliveira in central Portugal, considered one of the most critical European archaeological sites for the Middle Palaeolithic era. Experts suggest that Neanderthals occupied this location between 100,000 and 70,000 years ago.


Numerous artefacts dating back to the Lower Paleolithic, as well as chipped stones from the latter part of the Middle Paleolithic, were discovered in the caves of Gruta de Oliveira.

Of significant importance, researchers found evidence of hearths – approximately a dozen intentionally constructed circular structures resembling basins, filled with remnants. These remnants included charred bones, burnt wood, and ash. Among them were cooked goats, deer, horses, extinct aurochs, and rhinos. Turtles were also among the remains, presumably placed on their shells and cooked on hot stones. It's a wider array of meat than most sapiens enjoy even today.

"Meat was certainly on the menu in this inland cave, but in other excavations in caves overlooking the western Mediterranean Sea near Cartagena (Spain), remains of fish, mussels, mollusks, and even roasted pine nuts were found," remarked Diego Angelucci, one of the study's authors.

In the meantime, the rocks beneath the hearths displayed signs of reddening, possibly due to the heat.

Resolving a Long-Running Debate

Archaeologists have long been aware of the Neanderthals' use of fire. However, the crux of the matter lay in their intent.

Did these hominids intentionally start the fires themselves, feed them, and employ them for cooking and protection, or did they simply harness fires ignited by natural processes such as lightning or wildfires?

The findings presented in this study leave no room for doubt that the cave's inhabitants deliberately initiated fires and utilised them for cooking. The authors even suggest that fire probably played a fundamental role in the Neanderthals' daily lives, rendering their 'homes' more comfortable.

While this paints a rather cosy picture of a Neanderthal's daily routine, it also gives rise to pressing questions, such as: how did they kindle these fires?

Researchers propose that they likely created sparks by striking flint rocks against each other, much like the techniques of the Neolithic era. Nonetheless, definitive evidence to confirm this theory remains elusive.

Speaking about the similarities between these Neanderthals and the Homo sapiens known to inhabit the same region during that period, Angelucci noted, "We found no difference: they lived in caves in similar ways. Their skills are also a sign of intelligence. They did not belong to different species; I would say that they were distinct forms of humans."