Neanderthals Found Certain Plants Important, Had Medicine
2012-07-20 0:00

From: ScienceDaily.com

An international team of researchers, led by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the University of York, has provided the first molecular evidence that Neanderthals not only ate a range of cooked plant foods, but also understood its nutritional and medicinal qualities.

Until recently Neanderthals, who disappeared between 30,000 and 24,000 years ago, were thought to be predominantly meat-eaters. However, evidence of dietary breadth is growing as more sophisticated analyses are undertaken.


Neanderthal remains found in El Sidrón Cave
Researchers from Spain, the UK and Australia combined pyrolysis gas-chromatography-mass spectrometry with morphological analysis of plant microfossils to identify material trapped in dental calculus (calcified dental plaque) from five Neanderthals from the north Spanish site of El Sidrón.

Their results, published in Naturwissenschaften - The Science of Nature this week, provide another twist to the story -- the first molecular evidence for medicinal plants being used by a Neanderthal individual.

The researchers say the starch granules and carbohydrate markers in the samples, plus evidence for plant compounds such as azulenes and coumarins, as well as possible evidence for nuts, grasses and even green vegetables, argue for a broader use of ingested plants than is often suggested by stable isotope analysis.

Lead author Karen Hardy, a Catalan Institute of Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) Research Professor at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and an Honorary Research Associate at the University of York, UK, said: "The varied use of plants we identified suggests that the Neanderthal occupants of El Sidrón had a sophisticated knowledge of their natural surroundings which included the ability to select and use certain plants for their nutritional value and for self-medication. While meat was clearly important, our research points to an even more complex diet than has previously been supposed."

Earlier research by members of this team had shown that the Neanderthals in El Sidrón had the bitter taste perception gene. Now trapped within dental calculus researchers found molecular evidence that one individual had eaten bitter tasting plants.

Dr Stephen Buckley, a Research Fellow at the University of York’s BioArCh research facility, said: "The evidence indicating this individual was eating bitter-tasting plants such as yarrow and camomile with little nutritional value is surprising. We know that Neanderthals would find these plants bitter, so it is likely these plants must have been selected for reasons other than taste."

Ten samples of dental calculus from five Neanderthals were selected for this study. The researchers used thermal desorption and pyrolysis gas-chromatography-mass spectrometry to identify both free/unbound and bound/polymeric organic components in the dental calculus. By using this method in conjunction with the extraction and analysis of plant microfossils, they found chemical evidence consistent with wood-fire smoke, a range of cooked starchy foods, two plants known today for their medicinal qualities, and bitumen or oil shale trapped in the dental calculus.

Professor Matthew Collins, who heads the BioArCh research facility at York, said: "Using mass spectrometry, we were able to identify the building blocks of carbohydrates in the calculus of two adults, one individual in particular having apparently eaten several different carbohydrate-rich foods. Combined with the microscopic analysis it also demonstrates how dental calculus can provide a rich source of information."

The researchers say evidence for cooked carbohydrates is confirmed by both the cracked/roasted starch granules observed microscopically and the molecular evidence for cooking and exposure to wood smoke or smoked food in the form of a range of chemical markers including methyl esters, phenols, and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons found in dental calculus.

Professor Les Copeland from the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, University of Sydney, Australia, said: "Our research confirms the varied and selective use of plants by Neanderthals."

The study also provides evidence that the starch granules reported from El Sidrón represent the oldest granules ever to be confirmed using a biochemical test, while ancient bacteria found embedded in the calculus offers the potential for future studies in oral health.

[...]


Read the full article at: sciencedaily.com








Related Articles
Red Ice Radio: Nora Gedgaudas - Hour 1 - The Paleo Diet, Primal Body & Primal Mind


Latest News from our Front Page

Why a Caucasian-Japanese is not Percieved as Japanese
2015-08-04 2:15
The Japan Times has a hilarious article about a White guy who is angry and upset at the horrible and racist world we live in because customs agents and border agents are questioning his "right to be Japanese." It's seems that Debito Arodou's experience at border crossings suggest that no one takes a White guy seriously, for claiming to be Japanese. Hmm, ...
"Open the border - we're going to the UK!" Chanting mob of 200 storm Eurotunnel
2015-08-04 1:25
Migrants make their way towards the Tunnel entrance in the early hours of Sunday morning An organised mob of 200 migrants charged into the Calais entrance of the Channel Tunnel early yesterday, chanting ‘open the borders’ and demanding to be allowed into Britain. They tore down fences and charged past police, who retaliated by spraying tear gas. When the migrants were finally ...
Forgotten British Heroes Campaign
2015-08-04 0:16
The text of the letter from the Forgotten British Heroes Campaign to the Israel ambassador in London, Daniel Taub. This will be delivered to the Israel Embassy on Saturday 1st August, the day on which the Campaign will hold a wreath-laying and then a meeting at the site of a notorious Zionist terrorist bombing near to Trafalgar Square (the former British ...
Baltimore Murders Tie Records After Freddie Gray Killing, 45 Killed In July To Make It The Deadliest Month In At Least 45 Years
2015-08-03 23:14
The number of people murdered in Baltimore hit a record-tying 45 homicides for the month of July, the Baltimore Sun is reporting. The number is an uptick that follows a trend of increased violence in the city in the months after the Baltimore riots that resulted from the death of unarmed black man Freddie Gray on April 12. The increased violence in Baltimore, which was already one ...
Executive arrested over disappearance of $390 million in Bitcoins
2015-08-03 23:38
Mark Karpeles, head of collapsed MTGox Bitcoin exchange held by Japanese police Japanese police on Saturday arrested Mark Karpeles, head of the collapsed MtGox Bitcoin exchange, over the disappearance of about $390 (£250 million) worth of the virtual currency, local media said. France-born Karpeles, 30, is suspected of having accessed the exchange's computer system and falsifying data on its outstanding balance, ...
More News »