According to two studies conducted in 2016, Neanderthals survived on a diet comprising up to 80-percent red meat and around 20-percent plant-based items, including fruits, vegetables, and others. Seafood was by-and-large, if not entirely, absent from their diet. The discoveries, according to the researchers, were made while analyzing skeletal remains of early humans hailing from Asia and Europe.
Published in the Quaternary International journal and the Journal of Human Evolution, the findings rather reinforced previous beliefs that Neanderthals consumed paleo diets, consisting of red meats, plant-based food, and no seafood. For the research, a team of scientists from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at Germany-based University of Tübingen conducted a detailed analysis of the diet consumed by Stone Age Homo sapiens. Speaking about the project, Hervé Bocherens, the leader of the group and the paper’s co-author, said:
We have taken a detailed look at the Neanderthals’ diet. In the process, we were able to determine that the extinct relatives of today’s humans primarily fed on large herbivorous mammals, such as mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses.
The team examined animals and Neanderthal remains retrieved from two particular excavation sites in Belgium. They also studied dietary details of modern humans living during the same period, around 40,000 to 45,000 years ago. As the researchers point out, our forefathers consumed the meat of a variety of animals, including mammoth, wild horses, bears, woolly rhinoceroses, lions, reindeers, cave hyenas, wolves as well as European bison. Furthermore, isotopic analysis of collagen (a type of protein found in connective tissues) in prehistoric bone remains showed that the diet followed by Neanderthals was actually quite different from that of predatory animals existing at the time. Bocherens added:
Previously, it was assumed that the Neanderthals utilized the same food sources as their animal neighbors. However, our results show that all predators occupy a very specific niche, preferring smaller prey as a rule, such as reindeers, wild horses or steppe bison, while the Neanderthals primarily specialized on the large plant-eaters such as mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses.
According to the anthropologists, weapons, like spears, found at the excavation sites suggest that the Neanderthals had a very methodical, group approach for hunting large prey. In addition to meat, the early humans also ate substantial amounts of fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based materials. The team went on to say:
In this study, we were able for the first time to quantitatively determine the proportion of vegetarian food in the diet of the late Neanderthals. Similar results were found for more recent Stone Age humans.
Studies like these, the scientists believe, could shed more light on the events leading up to the disappearance of the Neanderthals some 40,000 years ago. Their meat-rich diet indicates that they likely did not starve to death. Some researchers speculate that they ceased to exist when they were genetically absorbed into the modern human population, as a result of interbreeding. For instance, paleontological evidence suggests that people of Asian and European descent are in fact part Neanderthal. A separate research from 2016 (supported by DNA analysis) alludes to the probability that such interbreeding scenarios between Neanderthals and humans occurred much earlier than previously thought, around 100,000 years ago. Simply put, scientists have come across a credible genetic scope that might prove that early modern humans actually migrated out of Africa before what the conventional ‘out of Africa’ theory suggests.
In any case, although the Neanderthal humans consumed very little seafood, later populations survived largely on fish and other types of seafood. And lastly, in case you are interested in how a Neanderthal sounded, do take a gander at the reconstruction video below, originally made under the auspices of BBC.