Findings of a new study have shown that the Neanderthals consumed fresh meat as their main food source. These extinct species, which lived between 400,000 and 40,000 years ago were human's closest extinct relative
High Nitrogen Isotopes Ratios
In a study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers looked at protein samples found in the collagen of preserved Neanderthal bones found in Grotte du Renne and Les Cottés in France.
They found that the Neanderthals had higher ratios of nitrogen-15 and nitrogen-14 similar to those found in modern day meat eaters such as wolves and hyenas. The researchers then used compound-specific isotope analyses (CSIA) to explain the high nitrogen isotopes ratios.
"Using this technique, we discovered that the Neanderthal of Les Cottés had a purely terrestrial carnivore diet: she was not a late weaned child or a regular fish eater, and her people seem to have mostly hunted reindeers and horses," said study researcher Klervia Jaouen, from Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
"We also confirmed that the Grotte du Renne Neanderthal was a breastfeeding baby whose mother was a meat eater."
Other Evidence Shows Neanderthals Were Fresh Meat Eaters
The findings add to a growing number of evidence that suggests the Neanderthals were mainly fresh-meat eaters.
Other examples of proof this ancient human relative had a carnivorous diet include spear found near Neanderthal remains along with butchered bones of animals. A study published in the journal Scientific Reports on Jan. 25 also provided evidence these prehistoric people made spears that allowed them to hit and kill their prey at a distance.
The Neanderthals also had thicker thorax compared with modern humans. The thickened thorax would have accommodated enlarged kidneys and livers often found in animals with protein-heavy diet.
Taken as a whole, these pieces of evidence suggest fresh meat was a main constituent of the Neanderthal diet. The researchers said that the meat was likely derived from vegetarian animals. The Neanderthals likely ate fawns because they are relatively easy to spear and their bones have been discovered in Neanderthal dig sites.
"Compound-specific isotope analyses are a very promising method for reconstructing aspects of past diets, especially by combining nitrogen and carbon isotope analyses on single amino acids," the researchers wrote in their study published on Feb. 19. "Our application of CSIA to two Neandertals has shown that both were high trophic level consumers, with large herbivores being the main protein source."