A new study reveals that Stone Age hominids in Europe hunted rabbits much earlier than previously thought. They had added small and fast animals as well as larger ones, such as wild goats and deer, to their diet about 400,000 years ago. This pushes back the earliest date of leporid exploitation in the northwestern Mediterranean areas to the Late Middle Pleistocene.

A team of researchers led by Eugene Morin, a paleoanthropologist from the Trent University in Peterborough, Canada, studied the dietary shift from large game to smaller animals. The team studied animal fossils and stone tools from 21 northwestern Mediterranean sites. The sets of bones and tools examined revealed large numbers of fossil leporids, namely the family of rabbits and hares, with cuts on the remains probably from stone tools.

Rabbits would have existed in large numbers in the Mediterranean areas, from Spain to Italy, and ancient Homo groups would hunt and eat them. The study indicates that the consumption of small fast game was rather common before the Upper Palaeolithic period than it was previously thought. Therefore, the diet of archaic hominids, including Neanderthal, form the northwestern Mediterranean was broader than that of hominids in nearby regions.