Neanderthals Ate Plants, Too

Neanderthals Ate Plants, Too

Cooked Wild Barley Found In Neanderthal Teeth

It is well known from fossil animal bones and isotope studies at Neanderthal sites that these extinct early humans were skilled big-game hunters. Now compelling evidence sheds new light on what Neanderthals actually ate.

Researchers from the George Washington University and the Smithsonian Institution have found starch granules from legumes, dates, and wild barley in the hardened dental plaque of ~40,000-year-old Neanderthal teeth. This is the first direct evidence that Neanderthals ate a variety of plants across their range, from northern Europe to western Asia. The wild barley granules also show damage indicative of cooking. Neanderthals were able to harvest and prepare wild grasses and seeds well before these plants were domesticated and grown by modern humans.    

These findings were announced December 27, 2010, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  

Image of Shanidar 1, skull, front view

Henry, A.G., Brooks, A. S., Piperno, D.R., 2011. Microfossils in calculus demonstrate consumption of plants and cooked foods in Neanderthal diets (Shanidar III, Iraq; Spy I and II, Belgium), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108, 486-491.