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27 August 2014
Humans were eating snails 30,000 years ago

Palaeolithic humans of present-day Spain were eating snails as much as 30,000 years ago - 10,000 years earlier than inhabitants of other Mediterranean regions, according to Javier Fernández-López de Pablo and colleagues from the Catalan Institute of Human Palaeo-ecology and Social Evolution.
     The researchers discovered land snail shell remains dating to about 30,000 years ago at the site of Cova de la Barriada, a pair of rock shelters near Benidorm, in south-eastern Spain. Groupings of complete shells from a large species were found in three levels of the site, along with stone artefacts and other animal remains.
     The snails appear to be associated with prehistoric human-constructed structures that may have been used to cook the snails, which were likely roasted in embers of pine and juniper. This points to previously undiscovered patterns of invertebrate use, and may highlight a broadening of the human diet in the Upper Palaeolithic in the Mediterranean basin. Land snails are common in the Late Pleistocene and Holocene archaeological record, but it is still unknown when and how they were incorporated into human diets.
     Diet change is a widely debated research topic of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition. Studies suggest that, in many areas of Europe, the first anatomically modern humans had a broader diet than Neanderthals, however, this view has been called into a question by the increasing body of evidence indicating that Neanderthals also relied on a varied range of resources. Unlike the increasing evidence for the consumption of marine molluscs amongst the Neanderthals, there is a no clear signal of land snail exploitation during the Middle Palaeolithic.
     In the Mediterranean, such an early occurrence contrasts with the neighbouring areas of Morocco, France, Italy and the Balkans, where the systematic nutritional use of land snails appears approximately 10,000 years later. The appearance of this new subsistence activity in the eastern and southern regions of Spain coincides with other demographically driven transformations in the regional archaeological record, such as the significant increase of the number of sites and beginning of the production of portable art.

Edited from PLOS One, Popular Archaeology (20 August 2014)

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