Though theyâ€™ve been extinct for almost 30,000 years, new evidence suggests that Neanderthal hunters were more than just carnivores.Â This new evidence for their culinary proclivities came from non other than plague on their teeth.Â I guess itâ€™s a good thing they didnâ€™t floss.
From three Neanderthals which were found in caves in Iraq and Belgium, researchers were able to determine that they consumed date palms, seeds, and legumes including peas and beans.Â Whatâ€™s more is that the researchers also found evidence of cooked food in the form of barley and water lilies.
Dolores Piperno, lead author of the study from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, told the Guardian:
“The plants we found are all foods associated with early modern human diets, but we now know Neanderthals were exploiting those plants and cooking them, too. When you cook grains it increases their digestibility and nutritional valueâ€¦”
Pipernoâ€™s team was given permission to study the remains of three Neanderthal skeletons.Â Two were recovered from a cave in Belgium and lived approximately 36,000 years ago while the other lived 46,000 years ago and was recovered from a cave in Iraq.
Though from a scholarly standpoint, this research has lead Piperno to question theories on how early humans drove the Neanderthal into extinction, it may also be of interest to proponents of the Paleo diet which excludes grains and legumes on the basis of what hunter-gathers were believe to eat during the Palaeolithic period.
In total, the researchers collected 73 starch grains from the Iraqi Neanderthal`s teeth which appeared to belong to barley or a close relative.Â There was strong evidence that these starches had been cooked in water.
For more details, these findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.