Isotope study reveals dietary habits of Neanderthals

Analysis of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in the bones of early humans from the Buran Kaya caves on the Crimean Peninsula, Russia-occupied Ukraine, and the locally present potential prey animals such as Saiga, horses, and deer, revealed that early modern humans consumed more plants than Neanderthals but ate very little fish.

Occipital bone of an early human from Buran-Kaya III (by Sandrine Prat)

Archaeologists from the University of Tübingen believe that just like the Neanderthals, ancestors of modern humans ate mainly mammoth and plants. The researchers were unable to document fish as part of their diet, through their study. It is therefore believed that the displacement of the Neanderthals was the result of direct competition as Homo sapiens started to colonize Europe around 43000 years ago, and was successful to replace the Neanderthals in 3000 years. Beside measuring the percentage of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in the bones the team of scientists analysed the nitrogen-15 content of individual amino acids, making it possible to not only determine the origin, but also the proportion of the nitrogen, revealing it does not originate from the consumption of fish products, but primarily from mammoths. Moreover, the proportion of plants in the diet of the anatomically modern humans was significantly higher than in comparable Neanderthal finds. On the other hand, mammoths appear to have been one of the primary sources of meat in both species.

Beads made from mammoth ivory (by Laurent Crépin)

(after PhysOrg, Sandrine Prat, Laurent Crépin, Dorothée G. Drucker, Yuichi I. Naito, Stéphane Péan, Yoshito Chikaraishi, Naohiko Ohkouchi, Simon Puaud, Martina Lázničková-Galetová, Marylène Patou-Mathis, Aleksandr Yanevich & Hervé Bocherens)

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