Cavemen `had a taste for vegetables too`

The eating habits of Neanderthals were far more sophisticated than earlier thought.

Updated: Jan 01, 2011, 10:34 AM IST

London: The eating habits of Neanderthals
were far more sophisticated than earlier thought - the cavemen
didn`t depend on meat only, but they ate vegetables and pulses
too, a new study has found.

Until now it was widely assumed that this subspecies
of modern humans, who lived in Europe and Asia 230,000 years
ago, ate only meat. This was thought to have contributed to
their downfall as they did not exploit other food sources.

But, now a new analysis of fossilised Neanderthal
teeth, by a team at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural
History in Washington DC, has revealed the hardy hunters ate a
much richer diet which included a wide range of vegetables and
pulses, and could also cook.

Microscopic particles trapped in the teeth contained
residues of wild grass, beans, roots, tubers and palm dates.
Many underwent physical changes that matched experimentally
cooked starch grains, the findings revealed.

The teeth, found in caves in Iraq and Belgium, has
suggested Neanderthals used fire in the same way as early
modern humans thousands of years later, the `Daily Express`
newspaper reported.

"Neanderthals made use of the diverse plant
foods in their local environment and transformed them into
more easily digestible foodstuffs, in part through cooking
them, suggesting an overall sophistication in Neanderthal
dietary regimes," Dr Dolores Piperno, who led the team, said.

The first proto-Neanderthal traits appeared in Europe
as early as 600,000 to 350,000 years ago. And by 130,000 years
ago, complete Neanderthal characteristics had appeared.

These characteristics then disappeared in Asia by
50,000 years ago and in Europe by about 30,000 years ago, with
no further individuals having enough Neanderthal morphological