Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Meaty Discovery: Neandertal Bone Chemistry Provides Food For Thought

Date:
June 13, 2000
Source:
Washington University In St. Louis
Summary:
New scientific testing resolves the long-standing debate over whether the Neandertals were merely scavengers who snatched the leftovers of nature's predators or were themselves high-level carnivores with adept hunting skills.

St. Louis, Mo., June 12, 2000 - New scientific testing resolves the long-standing debate over whether the Neandertals were merely scavengers who snatched the leftovers of nature's predators or were themselves high-level carnivores with adept hunting skills.

Related Articles


An international team of scientists firmly concludes the latter in a report to be published June 20 in the prestigious journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The article will be posted on the PNAS Web site at http://www.pnas.org on June 13.

Through bone-chemistry analyses, the team determined the Neandertals must have feasted on meat. The Neandertal diet - which may have included mammoths - was similar to other top-level carnivores from the time period, such as wolves and lions, the researchers said.

"This research puts to end the argument about whether the Neandertals were primarily scavengers," said team member Erik Trinkaus, Ph.D., an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis. "With a diet dominated by animal protein, the Neandertals must have been effective predators. This implies a much higher degree of social organization and behavioral complexity than is frequently attributed to the Neandertals."

Michael P. Richards, Ph.D., of the University of Oxford, U.K., and of Simon Fraser University, Canada, led the team, which included Trinkaus; Fred Smith, chairman of the Department of Anthropology at Northern Illinois University; and other researchers at Oxford, the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts and the University of Zagreb, Croatia.

The scientists analyzed a jawbone and skull bone from two Neandertals recently dated to about 28,000 years old. The fossils were recovered at the Vindija cave site, located about 34 miles north of the Croatian capital of Zagreb. Researchers then compared the bone composition with other central European animals of the same time period, including wolves, wild cattle, mammoths, arctic fox and cave bear.

Smith noted: "For several decades, archaeologists have debated the importance of meat in the Neandertal diet, but this question never has been answered unequivocally. Our findings provide conclusive proof that European Neandertals were top-level carnivores who lived on a diet of mainly hunted animal meat."

By itself, archaeological evidence - in the form of remains of animal bones and stone tools that were used for hunting - provides only a glimpse of Neandertal diets. Some scientists have argued that there was little evidence that the Neandertals were accomplished hunters.

"We've known meat clearly was a part of the diet of the Neandertals, but it was impossible, from the archaeological evidence alone, to see the actual proportion of meat in their diets," Smith said. "Stable-isotope analysis yields a direct measure of human diet, since our bones record the isotope signatures of the foods we ate in our lifetimes. By measuring these isotope signatures in fossil bones, we can reconstruct aspects of the diets of humans and animals from the past."

The new evidence suggests the European Neandertals may have eaten almost exclusively meat. "It's still hard for us to know for certain, but it doesn't appear that they were getting much in the way of nutrients from something other than meat," Smith said.

Trinkaus added: "The isotope data - combined with archaeological analysis of faunal remains and tools found with the Neandertal fossils - indicate that hunting of mammals was a major element of their subsistence. Conversely, plant foods are almost invisible in the archeological record, making it impossible to estimate accurately their dietary importance."

The new findings, along with data from older samples of Neandertal fossils in France and Belgium, show a pattern of European Neandertal adaptation as carnivores, the researchers said.

The Neandertals commonly are portrayed as prehistoric humans of limited capabilities who were rapidly replaced and driven to extinction by superior early modern humans, once the latter appeared in Europe. The team's findings not only offer new information about the European Neandertals' diet, but also about their social behavior, including manipulation of their environment.

"There's no reason to believe Neandertals were any less efficient exploiters of the environment than modern humans," Smith said.

In a study last fall involving Vindija fossils, members of the same research team documented through radiocarbon dating that the Neandertals roamed central Europe as recently as 28,000 years ago, representing the latest date ever recorded for Neandertal fossils. These previous findings - combined with recent evidence of late Neandertal survival in Iberia and of Neandertal-modern human interbreeding in Portugal, the latter of which also was published in PNAS - indicate that the Neandertals were able to coexist and interact successfully with early modern humans spreading across Europe at the time.

"The new bone-chemistry data combined with evidence of sustained Neandertal coexistence and interbreeding with early modern humans offer a positive picture of the Neandertals and may make it easier for some to accept the possibility that the Neandertals were among the ancestors of early modern humans," said Trinkaus, professor of anthropology in Arts and Sciences.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Washington University In St. Louis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Washington University In St. Louis. "Meaty Discovery: Neandertal Bone Chemistry Provides Food For Thought." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 June 2000. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/06/000613071408.htm>.
Washington University In St. Louis. (2000, June 13). Meaty Discovery: Neandertal Bone Chemistry Provides Food For Thought. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/06/000613071408.htm
Washington University In St. Louis. "Meaty Discovery: Neandertal Bone Chemistry Provides Food For Thought." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/06/000613071408.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Fossils & Ruins News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Bring Player Pianos Back to Life

Researchers Bring Player Pianos Back to Life

AP (Dec. 17, 2014) Stanford University wants to unlock the secrets of the player piano. Researchers are restoring and studying self-playing pianos and the music rolls that recorded major composers performing their own work. (Dec. 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Domestication Might've Been Bad For Horses

Domestication Might've Been Bad For Horses

Newsy (Dec. 16, 2014) A group of scientists looked at the genetics behind the domestication of the horse and showed how human manipulation changed horses' DNA. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mozart, Beethoven, Shubert and Bizet Manuscripts to Go on Sale

Mozart, Beethoven, Shubert and Bizet Manuscripts to Go on Sale

AFP (Dec. 16, 2014) A collection of rare manuscripts by composers Mozart, Beethoven, Shubert and Bizet are due to go on sale at auction on December 17. Duration: 00:57 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Old Ship Records to Shed Light on Arctic Ice Loss

Old Ship Records to Shed Light on Arctic Ice Loss

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 15, 2014) Researchers are looking to the past to gain a clearer picture of what the future holds for ice in the Arctic. A project to analyse and digitize ship logs dating back to the 1850's aims to lengthen the timeline of recorded ice data. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins