A new study shows that Neanderthals may have been carnivores

A new study shows that Neanderthals may have been carnivores

The first molar of a Neanderthal, analyzed for this study. Credit: Lord Montes

A new study published October 17 in the journal PNAS, led by a researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research, for the first time used zinc isotope analysis to determine the location of Neanderthals in the food chain. Their findings indicate that they were, in fact, carnivores.

Were Neanderthals a carnivore? Scientists have not decided the question yet. While some studies of dentin on individuals from the Iberian Peninsula show that they were major consumers of the plants, other research conducted in locations outside of Iberia appears to indicate that they consumed nothing but meat. Using new analytical techniques on a molar belonging to an individual of this species, researchers have shown that a Neanderthal at the Gabasa site in Spain appears to have been a carnivore.

To determine an individual’s position in the food chain, scientists so far have generally had to extract proteins and analyze nitrogen isotopes found in bone collagen. However, this method can only be used in temperate environments, and it is rarely used in specimens older than 50,000 years. When these conditions are not met, nitrogen isotope analysis is very complex, or even impossible. This was the case for the molars from the Gabasa site analyzed in this study.

Given these limitations, CNRS researcher Clivia Gawain and colleagues decided to analyze the proportions of zinc isotopes found in tooth enamel, a mineral that is resistant to all forms of decay. This is the first time this method has been used to attempt to learn about the Neanderthal diet. The lower the proportions of zinc isotopes in the bone, the more likely it is that it belongs to a carnivore. The analysis was also performed on the bones of animals from the same time period and geographic region, including carnivores such as lynxes and wolves, and herbivores such as rabbits and chamois. The results showed that Neanderthals of this age from Ghabassa may have been a carnivore that did not eat the blood of their prey.

It seems that Neanderthals were carnivores

Excavations at the Jbessa site in Spain. Credit: Lord Montes

The broken bones found at the site, along with isotopic data, indicate that this individual also ate the bone marrow of his prey, without eating the bones, while other chemical tracers show that he was weaned before the age of two. The analyzes also show that this Neanderthal may have died in the same place where he lived as a child.

Compared with previous techniques, the new zinc isotope analysis method makes it easier to distinguish omnivores from omnivores. To confirm their conclusions, the scientists hope to repeat the experiment on individuals from other sites, particularly from the Payre site in southeastern France, where new research is underway.


Reconstructing the diets of fossil vertebrates


more information:
Jaouen, Klervia, A Neanderthal nutritional mystery: insights provided by Zn isotopes in tooth enamel from Gabasa, Spain, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2109315119. doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2109315119

the quote: Neanderthals may have been carnivores, according to new study (2022, Oct 17) Retrieved Oct 17, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-10-neanderthals-carnivores.html

This document is subject to copyright. Notwithstanding any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without written permission. The content is provided for informational purposes only.


#study #shows #Neanderthals #carnivores

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *