Science: Neanderthal man's feast of goodies

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Christmas dinner in Neanderthal times, about 50,000 years ago on the shores of the sea by Gibraltar, was a mixed affair. Scientists excavating ancient caves beneath the giant Rock have discovered that the peoples who lived in Europe before homo sapiens ate a wider variety of foods than had previously been thought.

Were a Neanderthal to plan a slap-up meal, the first course would probably be pistachio nuts; the second, mussels picked from tidal rocks; with a further courses perhaps of ibex, baked tortoise, and bustard, a turkey- like bird which also frequented the area.

The finding that they ate pistachio nuts - a Mediterranean species which survived Ice Ages - and especially mussels has been a major discovery, said Professor Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum. "Some people have a dim view of Neanderthals' capabilities, and have suggested that they wouldn't have gone down to the shoreline for food," he said. But this finding "makes them a bit more like us in their food-gathering habits".