Neanderthals Cooking Food

Neanderthals may have been the first to boil their food

(Read the article on one page)

A palaeontologist has claimed at a recent meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Texas that Neanderthals cooked stews using skin bags or birch bark trays, according to a National Geographic report . It was once believed that boiling water to soften food or remove fat from bones may have been one of the advantages that allowed Homo sapiens to thrive, but Palaeontologists John Speth questions this perspective.

According to Speth, the evidence for Neanderthals’ cooking abilities comes from archaeological remains of ancient bones, spears, and porridge.  Speth said that animal bones found in Neanderthal settings are 98 percent free of scavenger's gnawing marks, which he says suggests the fat had been cooked off. Furthermore, grains found in the teeth of a Neanderthal buried in Iraq's Shanidar Cave site appear to have been cooked, according to a 2011 Proceedings of the National Academies of Science  report.  "It is speculative, but I think it is pretty likely that they knew how to boil," Speth says.

Speth’s theory is that Neanderthals boiled foods in birch bark twisted into trays, a technology that prehistoric people used to boil maple syrup from tree sap. Water will boil at a temperature below the ignition point of almost any container, even flammable bark or hides.

Sheets of birch bark

Sheets of birch bark, which Neanderthals may have used for cooking. Photo source .

Some experts are not yet convinced of Speth’s theory. Palaeontologist Mary Stiner of the University of Arizona in Tuscon acknowledges that Neanderthals were handy with wood and fire, but does not believe there is enough evidence to conclude that Neanderthals were cooking: "Whether they went as far as boiling stuff in birch bark containers or in hides is harder to evaluate," Stiner said.

Archaeologists have demonstrated that Neanderthals relied on birch tar as an adhesive for creating spear points as many as 200,000 years ago. Making birch tar requires clever cooking in an oxygen-free container, says palaeontologist  Michael Bisson  of Canada's McGill University. Bisson explains that Neanderthals probably rolled-up birch bark "cigars" and put them into holes to cook the sticky substance in an oxygen-free environment.

Birch tar

Making birch tar. Photo source .

While further research is needed to determine if Speth’s hypothesis is correct, numerous studies have emerged in recent years that have shown that the skills and abilities of Neanderthals were not inferior to those of Homo sapiens.

Featured image:  An artist’s depiction of Neanderthals cooking and eating. Credit: Mauricio Anton / SPL

By April Holloway

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Human Origins

Map of sites and postulated migratory pathways associated with modern humans dispersing across Asia during the Late Pleistocene.
Most people are now familiar with the traditional "Out of Africa" model: modern humans evolved in Africa and then dispersed across Asia and reached Australia in a single wave about 60,000 years ago. However, technological advances in DNA analysis and other fossil identification techniques, as well as an emphasis on multidisciplinary research

Ancient Technology

Ancient Places

Illustration of the "Emmons mask", a Mississippian culture carved cedarwood human face shaped object once covered in copper and painted with galena and used as part of a headdress
The City of Moundsville is located along the Ohio River in Marshall County, West Virginia. From the time of European settlement in the 1770s, Moundsville was regarded by antiquarians as one of the most significant ancient sites in North America. For it was here that the Adena mound builders and their descendants constructed the largest ceremonial center in the Upper Ohio Valley

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article