A diet of rabbit meat may have been the key to modern humans sweeping the Neanderthals from Europe and becoming the dominant species, researchers from Bournemouth University suggest.
They analysed rabbit bone remains found in caves in Spain and Portugal and concluded the animals were a staple of the modern human diet.
Neanderthals meanwhile ate mainly larger game.
But the rabbits were plentiful and easy to catch, meaning the modern humans could rely on being fed. Tracking and killing larger prey was more of a hit-and-miss business, leaving the Neanderthals unsure of where there next protein-rich meal was coming from.
“Rabbits originated in Iberia and they are a very special kind of resource, in that they can be found in large numbers, they are relatively easy to catch and they are predictable,” palaeoecology professor John Stewart says. “This means that they are quite a good food source to target.”
Targeting rabbits also could have helped our early ancestors develop their technological skills by devising and building traps and snares.
You can see previous Cosmos reporting on the interaction between Neanderthals and modern here, The Neanderthals live on in us.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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