I am just about ready to head to Gibraltar, yes the British territory south of Spain, for the Calpe Conference "Redefining Neanderthals." I am excited to present my poster about Neanderthals eating snails as a fun conversation starter as researchers in the field begin discussing the likelihood that Neanderthals were more omnivorous than previously thought. In some of my other work, I have discussed that Neanderthals likely did not eat many insects because of the cold climate of Pleistocene Europe. Biodiversity is quite low in these regions, thus the available edible insects would be considerably lower here than other, more temperate regions. However, that is not to say they did not eat any invertebrates. It is important to remember that with the latitudinal gradient of biodiversity the variation is clinal; there are no clear-cut boundaries, only increases and decreases in frequencies. An especially appealing insect or invertebrate might be consumed seasonally, and I think snails make a good candidate for that. Today, snails are consumed in the highest numbers in France, Italy, and Spain. Many of the snails are imported into the country from heliciculture farms in other regions allowing for the year-round availability of this delicacy. In order to assess whether Neanderthals were partaking in such an exquisite food, we need to start paying more attention to the snail shells that are found at Neanderthal sites. The problem is that snails can be present at these sites for many reasons other than Neanderthal intervention; they could have naturally wandered there or they could have been brought there by other predators such as rodents. However, if the locale of the Neanderthal site would not be a natural place for snails to visit, or if there is no predatory damage to the shells, then maybe, just maybe, the best explanation is that the shells are refuse from a Neanderthal snack. I believe there is a good case for this at the site of Krapina, Croatia, although I need to look more closely at the shells for rodent damage. Better reports of snails as part of the faunal assemblages at Neanderthal sites will also help address this question, and I hope that by discussing this at the conference, this data will become more available.
It's that time. Most professors are putting the finishing touches on their syllabi, so why not include entomophagy as a topic this year?
To make things a little easier for you, I am putting some of my resources here for you to use.
1) LECTURE SLIDES
These are my own lectures and a lot of the information comes from my own research. I put them up on SlideShare. It should be easy enough for you to get a basic account for free in order to access the presentations.
For a general audience, I posted an introduction to the role of entomophagy over the course of human evolution. This talk is geared towards non-anthropologists and has some infographics about the benefits of eating insects in addition to broader evolution concepts.
"Introduction to Entomophagy and Evolution": http://www.slideshare.net/secret/4afousVfJ3xsUP
It may be useful to go to this blog by "Ask and Entomologist." The author re-iterates me giving the above talk. It can be useful in filling in some of the missed information from only having the slides and not hearing the talk.
For courses in biological anthropology, this is a lecture that includes a reconstruction of australopithecine diet. This is the last lecture I give in Introduction to Biological Anthropology as a paleoanthropology case study, but it would also be very useful in an Evolution of the Human Diet class or Fossil Hominins class.
"Advanced Entomophagy and Evolution": http://www.slideshare.net/secret/ik04btUPJ0QHW2
The research I present in this second talk comes from the below papers. You can access them here on academia.edu if you are a member, or feel free to message me, and I will send you the pdf.
J. Lesnik. (2014). Termites in the hominid diet: A meta-analysis of termite genera, species and castes as a dietary supplement for South African robust australopithecines. Journal of Human Evolution. Special Issue: The Other Faunivory. 71: 94-104.
J. Lesnik. (2011). Bone tool texture analysis and the role of termites in the hominid diet. Paleoanthropology. 2011: 268-281.
Here is another post by "Ask an Entomologist."
This is an interview with me about why we don't eat bugs in Western culture. The author types out an abridged version of the interview, but the whole thing is there as an audio file. It could potentially be useful to assign it to students instead of a reading.
One other useful thing I want to share is this video that could be used n any anthropology, entomology, environment studies, food, or nutrition class. This is a BBC video titled "Can Eating Insects Save the World?"
I hope that you will find these resources useful! Thanks for helping to spread the word to your students!
Julie Lesnik received her PhD studying the role of termites in the diet of fossil hominins and has since started exploring insects as food more broadly.