December 28, 2010

Neanderthals Enjoyed A Well-balanced Diet

Scientists announced this week the discovery that Neanderthals, the prehistoric cousins of humans, ate grains and vegetables as well as meat, cooking them over fire in the same way early homo sapiens did.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), challenges a well-established theory that Neanderthals' over reliance on meat contributed to their extinction about 30,000 years ago.

A team of researchers found grains from different plants, including wild grasses, roots and tubers trapped in plaque buildup on fossilized Neanderthal teeth unearthed in northern Europe and Iraq.

Most of the particles "had undergone physical changes that matched experimentally-cooked starch grains, suggesting that Neanderthals controlled fire much like early modern humans," according to the PNAS study.

According to an AFP report, although stone artifacts from that time did not provide evidence that Neanderthals practiced agriculture and used tools to grind plants, the new research does show they cooked and prepared plants for eating.

Neanderthals lived in parts of Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East for 170,000 years but all evidence of them disappears about 28,000 years ago, their last known refuge being Gibraltar.

There has been much debate about why they died out, because they co-existed with homo sapiens, which continued to thrive.

The latest study was carried out by the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington.


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