Tech UPTechnologyNeanderthals Were Carnivores, Claims New Study

Neanderthals Were Carnivores, Claims New Study


Were Neanderthals carnivores? The composition of the Neanderthal diet, that close human ancestor who lived in Europe and western Asia from about 400,000 to 40,000 years ago, has long been a source of conflict. Carnivores? Vegetarians? There have always been conflicting results. Now, a new study of a Neanderthal tooth from Spain using a novel approach suggests that they ate mainly meat.

For the first time in history, zinc isotopes from Neanderthal tooth enamel have been used for research, revealing that Neanderthals were likely carnivores rather than vegetarians.


meat thank you

A team of scientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), in collaboration with colleagues from various scientific institutions in Germany, has just published this new study on Neanderthal dietary practices in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ( PNAS).

As the CNRS researchers acknowledge, conventional tests of nitrogen isotope ratios have generally supported the idea that the Neanderthal diet was exclusively carnivorous. However, there have been some studies showing clear indications that at least some Neanderthals were omnivores .

Applying a recently developed technique to study the chemical signatures of ancient tooth enamel, they have been able to determine that a Neanderthal living in a cave on the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Palaeolithic (50,000 years ago) ate a strictly carnivorous diet.

Until now, to determine an individual’s position in the food chain, scientists extracted proteins and analyzed the nitrogen isotopes present in bone collagen. However, this method cannot be used widely (for example, it can often be used in temperate environments) and is atypical for samples older than 50,000 years. But what if these limited conditions are not met? Scientists have it complicated or, many times, impossible .

No fruits or vegetables

Hence, science is often creative to go one step further. The scientists decided to analyze the proportions of zinc isotopes present in tooth enamel, a mineral resistant to all forms of degradation. The tooth had low levels of heavy isotopes of zinc , the researchers found, suggesting the owner was a carnivore. What’s more, the results of all the tests carried out showed that the Neanderthal owner of the tooth must have been a dedicated carnivore who did not supplement his diet with any kind of fruit or vegetable.

Zinc isotopes are known to negatively correlate with carnivores: low concentrations signify a highly carnivorous diet, while high concentrations point more to plant-based foods.

The experts analyzed not only the Neanderthal molar but also the bones of other animals alive at the time, including lynxes, wolves and chamois, for concentrations of zinc isotopes. The results revealed that this individual’s diet likely consisted of a lot of meat, as it was more similar in zinc isotope concentration to that of carnivores from the same era.

“Meat consumption is supported by both zooarchaeological data at Gabasa and enamel analysis,” the authors write.

Investigators were unable to determine the sex, age at death, and cause of death of the individual to whom the tooth belonged. However, analysis suggested that this Neanderthal likely died in the same place he had lived as a child , around the Gabasa area.

Each new discovery adds valuable new data points that will help scientists put a few more pieces to the intricate puzzle of our ancestors.

Reference: A Neanderthal dietary conundrum: Insights provided by tooth enamel Zn isotopes from Gabasa, Spain

Clervia Jaouen [email protected], Vanessa Villalba-Mouco, Geoff M. Smith, +17 , and Lourdes Montes Info & Affiliations

Edited by Suzanne Pillar Birch, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA; received July 1, 2021; accepted April 14, 2022 by Editorial Board Member Dolores R. Piperno

October 17,

119 (43) e2109315119


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