Ancient Tooth Decay Suggests Neanderthals Were Locavores: William Harcourt-Smith

What did Neanderthals eat? DNA evidence from the plaque in their teeth is offering new and enlightening clues.

Assistant Professor William Harcourt-Smith (GC/Lehman, Anthropology) recently spoke to Gizmodo about a breakthrough study by an international team of scientists, published in Nature, which indicates that our predecessors were adaptable locavores.

Genes found in the decayed teeth of Neanderthals at the Spy Cave in Belgium suggested that they had a meat-based diet of woolly rhinoceros and wild sheep. By contrast, the tooth decay DNA from Neanderthals from El SidrĂ³n cave in Spain revealed a largely vegetarian diet of mushrooms, pine nuts, and moss.

“We’ve been able to say ‘it looks like they ate a lot of meat’ or ‘it looks like they ate a lot of these types of animals, animals in the forest or open planes,’” Harcourt-Smith, who did not participate in the study, told Gizmodo. “But this is at the species level. It’s interesting. It argues the Neanderthals are specifically targeting certain animals.”

Harcourt-Smith studies human evolution and specializes in hominin postcranial morphology and functional anatomy related to primate locomotion.

Submitted on: MAR 20, 2017

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