Cavemen had a taste for vegetables too
Until now it was widely assumed that this subspecies of modern humans, who lived in Europe and Asia 230,000 years ago, ate only meat. This was thought to have contributed to their downfall as they did not exploit other food sources.
But, now a new analysis of fossilised Neanderthal teeth, by a team at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, has revealed the hardy hunters ate a much richer diet which included a wide range of vegetables and pulses, and could also cook.
Microscopic particles trapped in the teeth contained residues of wild grass, beans, roots, tubers and palm dates. Many underwent physical changes that matched experimentally cooked starch grains, the findings revealed.
The teeth, found in caves in Iraq and Belgium, has suggested Neanderthals used fire in the same way as early modern humans thousands of years later, the `Daily Express` newspaper reported.
"Neanderthals made use of the diverse plant foods in their local environment and transformed them into more easily digestible foodstuffs, in part through cooking them, suggesting an overall sophistication in Neanderthal dietary regimes," Dr Dolores Piperno, who led the team, said.
The first proto-Neanderthal traits appeared in Europe as early as 600,000 to 350,000 years ago. And by 130,000 years ago, complete Neanderthal characteristics had appeared.
These characteristics then disappeared in Asia by 50,000 years ago and in Europe by about 30,000 years ago, with no further individuals having enough Neanderthal morphological traits.