Berlin: Neanderthals may have been wiped out due a direct competition with early humans for meat, say scientists who found that for both species mammoths were the primary source of meat.
Scientists studied the diet of anatomically modern humans and were able to refute the theory that the diet of early representatives of Homo sapiens was more flexible than that of Neanderthals.
Just like the Neanderthals, our ancestors had mainly mammoth and plants on their plates - the researchers were unable to document fish as part of their diet.
Therefore, the international team assumes that the displacement of the Neanderthals was the result of direct competition.
The first representatives of Homo sapiens colonised Europe around 43,000 years ago, replacing the Neanderthals there approximately 3,000 years later.
"Many studies examine the question of what led to this displacement - one hypothesis postulates that the diet of the anatomically modern humans was more diverse and flexible and often included fish," said Herve Bocherens from the University of Tubingen in Germany.
Researchers studied the dietary habits of early modern man on the basis of the oldest know fossils from Ukraine.
"In the course of this study, we examined the finds of early humans in the context of the local fauna," said Dorothee Drucker from University of Tubingen.
"Until now, all analyses of the diet of early modern humans were based on isolated discoveries; therefore, they are very difficult to interpret," she said.
In order to reconstruct our ancestor's menu, the team measured the percentage of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in the bones of the early humans and the locally present potential prey animals such as Saiga, horses, and deer.
They also 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.
"Our results reveal a very high proportion of the nitrogen isotope 15N in early modern humans," said Bocherens.
"However, contrary to our previous assumptions, these do not originate from the consumption of fish products, but primarily from mammoths," he said.
The proportion of plants in the diet of the anatomically modern humans was significantly higher than in Neanderthals, researchers said.
Mammoths, on the other hand, appear to have been one of the primary sources of meat in both species.
"According to our results, Neanderthals and the early modern humans were in direct competition in regard to their diet, as well - and it appears that the Neanderthals drew the short straw in this contest," said Drucker.