Neanderthal’s weren’t vegetarian – they just ate the stomachs of vegetarians

English: First reconstruction of Neanderthal m...

The view that calcified plaque found on Neanderthal teeth came from medicinal plants and vegetables, conjuring up visions of a smart, cultured, sensitive race of homo erectus is being challenged. Laura Buck and Chris Stringer believe these remains have a much more violent source. They came from eating the stomachs of prey which in turn were vegetarian. Neanderthals were only vegetarian by proxy.

Hah! We can now go back to the older vision of Neanderthals being brutal, brutish, insensitive, blood-thirsty carnivores!

(Just as an aside, my grandmother was not only a confirmed vegetarian but a devout Hindu for whom the very thought of eating beef was anathema. She couldn’t quite come to terms with the fact that her grandchildren were carnivorous and that they ate gentle things like chickens and goats. I once tried to convince her that I was more of a vegetarian – by proxy – by eating beef rather than chicken since cows were more vegetarian in their diet than chickens. Chickens after all were known to eat worms and other horrible stuff. She gave up any hopes that I would escape everlasting damnation at that point!).

Past Horizons carries this revisionist view of Neanderthals:

(This article titled “The stomach-turning truth about what the Neanderthals ate?” was written by Robin McKie, for The Observer on Saturday 19th October 2013)

It was the tell-tale tartar on the teeth that told the truth. Or at least, that is what it appeared to do. Researchers – after studying calcified plaque on Neanderthal fossil teeth found in El Sidrón cave in Spain – last year concluded that members of this extinct human species cooked vegetables and consumed bitter-tasting medicinal plants such as chamomile and yarrow.

These were not brainless carnivores, in other words. These were smart and sensitive people capable of providing themselves with balanced diets and of treating themselves with health-restoring herbs, concluded the researchers, led by Karen Hardy at the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies in Barcelona. Our vision of these long-extinct people needs adjusting, they argued.

But now this tale of ancient tartar has taken a new twist with two researchers at London’s Natural History Museum challenging the Barcelona group’s conclusions. Dental research does not prove that Neanderthals were self-medicating, vegetable-eating sophisticates, one told the Observer. There are other, equally valid but decidedly more grizzly explanations to account for those microscopic fragments of herbs and plants found in Neanderthal teeth.

In a paper by Laura Buck and Chris Stringer and published in the latest edition of Quaternary Science Reviews, Stringer argues that the tiny pieces of plant found in Neanderthal teeth could have come from a very different source. They may well have become embedded in the stomach contents of deer, bison and other herbivores that had then been hunted and eaten by Neanderthals.

“Many hunter-gatherers, including the Inuit, Cree and Blackfeet, eat the stomach contents of animals such as deer because they are good source of vitamin C and trace elements,” said Stringer. “For example, among the Inuit, the stomach contents of an animal are considered a special delicacy with a consistency and a flavour that is not unlike cream cheese. At least that is what I am told.” ……

…… Stringer and Buck stress that they are not arguing that Neanderthals definitely did not eat vegetables or could not have used certain herbs as medicines. “What we are saying is that the evidence of plant fragments in Neanderthal teeth is simply not strong enough to prove that they did so. There are other explanations, including the proposal that they ate these organs of the animals they killed. They had the stomach for it, if you want to put it that way.”

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One Response to “Neanderthal’s weren’t vegetarian – they just ate the stomachs of vegetarians”

  1. International Museum of Cultures BLOG Says:

    […] in understanding is the new findings regarding Neanderthals. According to the k2p Blog post Neanderthal’s weren’t vegetarian – they just ate the stomachs of vegetarians, the Neanderthals, which were once thought to be ferocious carnivores. Then they were then thought […]

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