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Neanderthal Teeth

Did Neanderthals have Refined Taste or were they just ‘Brainless’ Carnivores?

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When it comes to human behaviours, Neanderthals tend to get a pretty bad rap. However, a plethora of research over the last several years has been breaking down many of the myths associated with this ancient human species.  Once depicted as barbaric, grunting, sub-humans, Neanderthals are now known to have had brains as large as ours and their own distinct culture. But a new study has attempted to reduce the Neanderthals, yet again, to little more than brainless carnivores.

Recent research conducted by the Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studies in Barcelona had discovered calcified plaque on Neanderthal fossil teeth found in El Sidrón cave in Spain which suggested that this extinct human species cooked vegetables and consumed bitter-tasting medicinal plants such as chamomile and yarrow. 

However, two researchers at London’s Natural History Museum challenged the team’s conclusion and have argued that the results of the dental analysis do not provide that Neanderthals were intelligent enough to provide themselves with balanced diets or of treating themselves with health-restoring herbs. Instead the claim that the microscopic plant and vegetable residues found on their teeth are the result of eating animal stomachs.

Chris Stringer, study author, has said that the small particles of vegetables and herbs came from the stomach contents of deer, bison and other herbivores which they would have hunted and eaten.

“The mistake is to think that because you find plant fragments in teeth that they must have got there because these carnivores – in this case Neanderthals – had consumed them as part of a carefully constructed diet or were taken because it was realised that certain herbs and grasses had health-promoting properties,” said study co-author Laura Buck. “In fact, they may have got there purely because Neanderthals liked to eat the stomach contents of some of the animals they killed.”

While Stringer and Buck have presented an alternative proposal to the plant residue in the teeth, they have yet to present conclusive evidence that Neanderthals did in fact eat stomach.

By April Holloway

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