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Neanderthals Ate Their Veggies 151

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the except-for-brussel-sprouts dept.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes Scientists excavating an archaeological site in southern Spain have finally gotten the real poop on Neanderthals, finding that the Caveman Diet for these quintessential carnivores included substantial helpings of vegetables. Using the oldest published samples of human fecal matter, archaeologists have found the first direct evidence that Neanderthals in Europe cooked and ate plants about 50,000 years ago.
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Neanderthals Ate Their Veggies

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  • Wrong species (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 26, 2014 @09:04AM (#47323535)

    Before people start claiming that this proves that our ancestors ate such-and-such... remember Neanderthals aren't ancestors of modern Homo Sapiens but a different evolutionary branch altogether.

    Which isn't to say that their and our common ancestors must have eaten a substantially different diet. Also, apparently there was some cross-breeding between our various ancestral species.

    So what was my point again? Never mind.

  • Re:Seems strange. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Axynter (684016) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @01:16PM (#47325879)
    Dental records are not as relevant for a species that uses tools to process food; tools/food processing technologies can make any food item suitable for any dentition.

    The thing with Neanderthals is that _direct_ evidence (c.f. article) from the isotopic composition of bone collagen indicates they obtained most of their _protein_ from meat. This doesn't mean they didn't eat veggies - low protein fruits, for example, would be more or less invisible isotopically. What the isotope data tells us is that they relied on meat to a greater extent than anatomically modern humans (AMHs), to the point that their nitrogen stable isotope ratios, which are enriched with each trophic level, are as high as those of carnivores. Such high values (or even higher) can be observed in AMHs whose diet includes a significant portion of fish, because the trophic chain in aquatic systems is longer and more complex, but the carbon stable isotope values do not show evidence for significant consumption of such aquatic resources with Neanderthals. So, basically, the isotopic evidence we have so far suggests that Neanderthals obtained much more of their protein from terrestrial animals than was/is the case with anatomically modern humans.

    An important point to remember is that the isotopic values from bone collagen represent the _average_ diet over a long time span (it depends on the bone - e.g. a rib vs a femur - but it's several years). Dental calculus, and much more so poop, records the diet over a much shorter timespan, and are therefore not necessarily representative of overall diets. Dental calculus is particularly problematic in this regard because we don't understand all that well what gets preserved in it and what doesn't - a single meal of grains may leave a strong marker that will last years. Sure, you can look at dental calculus and say they ate grains, but the more interesting and/or important questions is: how often?
  • by cusco (717999) <brian@bixby.gmail@com> on Thursday June 26, 2014 @02:21PM (#47326551)

    No, Africans south of the Sahara don't have any Neanderthal genes, nor do many (most?) Asian and American populations. Some Asian populations also have Denesovian genes, and another subset has genetic input from a hominid we can only refer to as "unknown" since we don't have any samples of its genetic makeup. The book 'Children Of The Ice Age' has quite a bit of interesting research about Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons. Did you know that population density was so low in ice-age Europe that a person would probably meet no more that 30-50 other people during their entire life? Inbreeding is much less of a threat than most people think.

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