News / Science & Technology

Ancient Fecal Matter Reveals Secrets of Neanderthal Diet

A new study provides more evidence that Neanderthals ate vegetables along with meat. (Illustration: Christine Daniloff/MIT)
A new study provides more evidence that Neanderthals ate vegetables along with meat. (Illustration: Christine Daniloff/MIT)

Related Articles

Photogallery  Skulls Shine New Light on Human Evolution

Collection includes 17 skulls from the Sima de los Huesos (Pit of Bones) cave in Northern Spain

Humans Got Skin Genes From Neanderthals

Scientists found several genes dealing with a protein called keratin that our ancient human ancestors acquired by mating with Neanderthals, which helped them survive outside Africa

Neanderthals Organized Homes by Activity

New study shows that man’s ancestors butchered animals, made tools and gathered round the fire in different parts of their homes

New research suggests Neanderthal parents, like their modern-day human counterparts, might have had to lecture their kids to eat their vegetables.

Researchers from MIT and the University of La Laguna in Spain say 50,000-year-old Neanderthal fecal matter suggest our early ancestors were not solely meat-eaters, eating plants, berries, tubers and nuts.

“It’s important to understand all aspects of why humanity has come to dominate the planet the way it does,” said Roger Summons, a professor of geobiology in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and co-author of a paper about the discovery in a statement. “A lot of that has to do with improved nutrition over time."

By analyzing samples of the fecal matter, the researchers found “animal-derived cholesterol” but also phytosterol, a compound from plants. This, they say is the “first direct evidence that Neanderthals may have enjoyed an omnivorous diet.”

Summons and his team found the fecal matter at El Salt, a site in Alicante, Spain, where Neanderthals lived. A chemical analysis indicated a “significant plant intake,” researchers said.

According to Ainara Sistiaga, a graduate student at the University of La Laguna,
El Salt has evidence of recurrent Neanderthal occupation dating back tens of thousands of years.

She wrote in an email to VOA that they are sure they are dealing with human fecal matter because of synthesized cholesterol as well as the presence of another byproduct caused by the digestion of plants.

“We use those markers not only to identify the source of the fecal matter but also to deal to the unanswered question of the proportions of each type of food they were actually eaten,” she wrote.

Some previous attempts to discern the Neanderthal diet have been less direct, say the researchers. For example, Neanderthal bone fragments can show that Neanderthals may have eaten “pigs versus cows” but that it would probably underestimate the presence of plants in the diet.

Other studies have looked at vegetable matter stuck in the teeth of Neanderthal remains. This, the researchers say could be a clue that they ate plants, but could also mean they didn’t eat plants directly, but rather by eating the stomach contents of their prey.

In fact, last year, a study saying Neanderthals could have eaten the contents of their prey’s stomachs as an easy source of vegetable matter.

“It could come from the stomach contents, but is unlikely that it is only present in two from five samples [of fecal matter] if it was a regular behavior,” wrote Sistiaga. “In any case, this would represent another way to eat plants.”

The teeth method also could have only proved that Neanderthals perhaps used their teeth as tools, biting plants, but not necessarily eating them.

According to Sistiaga, among primates we are the only dedicated carnivores, and the only ones to take meat from large carcasses.

“Chimpanzees, our closest relatives, show a dependence on ripe fruit, acquiring around 5 percent of its food from meat, and for some, up to 10 percent,” she wrote. adding that chimps can go weeks or months without meat.

Humans, on the other hand, have a relatively large upper gut with bacteria “well suited for lipid digestion.”

Richard Wrangham, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University, who was not involved in the study, said in a statement that determining if Neanderthals had eaten plants was “entirely a matter of guesswork” until now.

He added that the new research confirms theories that Neanderthals were not 100 percent carnivores.

“In the end it would not be surprising to find that Neanderthals show little difference from sapiens in their diet composition,” he said in the statement.

The researchers next plan to head to analyze soil sample at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, where some of the earliest traces of early man have been found.

The study was published in the journal PLoS ONE.

 

You May Like

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid