Neanderthals Might Have Consumed More Plant Than Believed, Study Shows

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New research indicates Stone Age humans in Morocco 13,000 years ago consumed a plant-rich diet, challenging traditional views on early humans’ eating habits.

The study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution examined fossilized teeth from the Taforalt site in Morocco, one of North Africa’s oldest cemeteries. Through chemical analysis of tooth enamel and bones, researchers discerned the dietary habits of Stone Age Moroccans.

Stone Age people ate more plants than meat

This research challenges previous beliefs about the diet of ancient hunter-gatherers, revealing a significant reliance on plants. Chemical signatures in ancient teeth and bones suggest a plant-based diet. Scientists utilized various forensic techniques, analyzing isotopes of elements such as zinc, nitrogen, carbon, and strontium to uncover these dietary patterns.

Researchers analyzed zinc and nitrogen isotopes in ancient Moroccan teeth. The ratio of zinc isotopes decreased along the food chain, indicating a plant-rich diet similar to herbivores. Nitrogen isotopes also aligned with herbivore patterns, supporting the conclusion of a predominantly plant-based diet for the ancient humans.

The analysis of carbon isotopes revealed that Stone Age people primarily consumed plants utilizing the C3 photosynthetic pathway, such as legumes, tubers, and nuts. Chemical evidence suggests they may have used fire for cooking, enhancing nutrient availability.

Prehistoric humans ate diverse plant based diets

These findings depict a population heavily reliant on gathered plant foods rather than hunted meat, with an estimated 50 percent of their protein intake derived from plants, resembling later farming societies more than traditional hunter-gatherer depictions.

The findings from Taforalt contribute to the evidence suggesting that prehistoric people globally had diverse diets and advanced methods for processing plants long before agriculture. This challenges the traditional view of prehistory focused on hunting, highlighting the significance of plant gathering and processing in ancient lifestyles. Even Neanderthals consumed a variety of plants. Understanding ancient diets provides a more accurate portrayal of our ancestors’ lives.

The study highlights the ancient connection between humans and plants, suggesting that the transition to plant cultivation, known as the Neolithic Revolution, was preceded by Stone Age people’s utilization of nutrients from wild plants, as evidenced by the Taforalt findings.

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