Until recently Neanderthals were thought to be predominantly meat-eaters. However, evidence of dietary breadth is growing as more sophisticated analyses are undertaken.
The team combined pyrolysis gas-chromatography-mass spectrometry with morphological analysis of plant microfossils to identify material trapped in dental calculus (calcified dental plaque) from five Neanderthals from the north Spanish site of El Sidrón.
The results, published in the journal Naturwissenschaften, provide another twist to the story – the first molecular evidence for medicinal plants being used by a Neanderthal individual.
The researchers said the starch granules and carbohydrate markers in the samples, plus evidence for plant compounds such as azulenes and coumarins, as well as possible evidence for nuts, grasses and even green vegetables, argue for a broader use of ingested plants than is often suggested by stable isotope analysis.
“The varied use of plants we identified suggests that the Neanderthal occupants of El Sidrón had a sophisticated knowledge of their natural surroundings which included the ability to select and use certain plants for their nutritional value and for self-medication. While meat was clearly important, our research points to an even more complex diet than has previously been supposed,” said lead author Prof Karen Hardy of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the University of York, UK.
Earlier study by the team had shown that the Neanderthals from El Sidrón had the bitter taste perception gene. Now trapped within dental calculus researchers found molecular evidence that one individual had eaten bitter tasting plants.
“The evidence indicating this individual was eating bitter-tasting plants such as yarrow and chamomile with little nutritional value is surprising. We know that Neanderthals would find these plants bitter, so it is likely these plants must have been selected for reasons other than taste,” said Dr Stephen Buckley of the University of York.
Originally posted by Melyanna
I am glad that some academic did this research, but with respect, more than 30 years ago archaeologists found neanderthal skeletons in Shanidar cave with the pollen from every single psychoactive plant to be found during their epoch.
Science is a wonderful thing, but sometimes ya gotta wonder how many times we need to prove the same thing over and over again.
By the way, Neanderthal's had a larger brain mass to body mass ratio that we do, signifying that they may well have been more intelligent than us...