What did Neanderthals eat? Were they carnivores or did they also eat vegetables and mushrooms?
A new analysis of the find in Spain can help answer the question.
Zinc isotope analysis found that Neanderthals at the Gabasa site in Spain appear to have been carnivores, based on previous research at other sites that suggested Neanderthals.
To determine an individual’s position in the food chain, scientists usually had to extract proteins and analyze the nitrogen isotopes present in bone collagen.
This method can often only be used in temperate environments and is less useful on samples over 50,000 years old.
When these conditions are not met, nitrogen isotope analysis is very complex, or even impossible.
This was the case with the molar from the Gabasa site analyzed in this study.
Klevia Jaouen, CNRS researcher, and her colleagues decided to analyze the isotopic ratios of zinc present in tooth enamel, a mineral resistant to all forms of degradation.
This is the first time this method has been used to attempt to identify a Neanderthal’s diet.
The lower the proportions of zinc isotopes in bones, the more likely they are to belong to a carnivore.
The analysis was also carried out on the bones of animals of the same age and geographical area, including carnivores such as lynxes and wolves, and herbivores such as rabbits and chamois.
The results showed that the Neanderthal this tooth from the Gabasa site belonged to was likely a carnivore that did not consume the blood of its prey.
Broken bones found at the site, along with isotopic data, indicate that this individual also ate his prey’s bone marrow, without consuming the bones, while other chemical tracers show that he was weaned before the age of two.
Analyzes also show that this Neanderthal likely died in the same place they had lived as a child.
Compared to previous techniques, this new method of zinc isotope analysis simplifies the distinction between omnivores and carnivores.
To confirm their conclusions, the scientists hope to repeat the experiment on individuals from other sites, most notably the Payre site in southeastern France, where new research is underway.
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