Had Elmer Fudd been around when the Neanderthals walked the earth, he would have been very disappointed to find they were not, in fact, hunting rabbits. At least according to a new study in the Journal of Human Evolution. United Kingdom’s Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Imperial College London biologist John Fa authored the study and suggests that when big game like mammoths began dying out in the late Pleistocene that Neanderthals didn’t – or couldn’t – take advantage of the most abundant prey, which could be a contributing factor to why they’re not around today.
Fa and his team looked at bones at known Neanderthal and early Homo sapiens sites across Iberia and found that rabbit remains started becoming common around 30,000 years ago, when the decline of the Neanderthals began and humans were trickling in to mainland Europe.
Fa argues that Neanderthals, who hunted big game with clubs and spears, possibly weren’t equipped to hunt small mammals. Humans, however, used smaller spears and eventually bow and arrow, weapons that were well suited to bringing down small, quick prey. Hunting rabbits also meant an entirely different lifestyle for the hunters. If you killed just one mammoth, your family was fed for days. To feed your family on rabbit meant continual hunting.
Humans also may have been ahead of the curve by leaving rabbit hunting to women and children. While they set and watched traps near settlements, the men went out in search of larger game, evening out the risk of a poor hunt.
Other researchers are skeptical of Fa’s findings, claiming that an intelligent hominid like a Neanderthal could find ways to adjust. Whatever the reasons, it seems Elmer Fudd isn’t as dumb as he appears.