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Neandertals Ate Their Veggies, Tooth Study Shows
for National Geographic News
Tiny bits of plant material found in the teeth of a Neandertal skeleton unearthed in Iraq provide the first direct evidence that the human ancestors ate vegetation, researchers say.
Little is known about diet of Neandertals (also spelled Neanderthals), although it's widely assumed that they ate more than just meat.
Much of what is known about their eating habits has come from indirect evidence, such as animal remains found at Neandertal sites and chemical signatures called isotopes detected in their teeth.
The new hard evidence is microfossils of plant material that investigators found in the dental plaque of 35,000-year-old Neanderthal teeth, said lead study author Amanda Henry, a graduate student in hominid paleobiology at The George Washington University.
"The formation of dental [plaque] traps the plant microfossils from food particles within the matrix of the plaque deposits, so the microfossils are protected and are a unique record of the plant foods put into the mouth," Henry said.
"So we can say with confidence that this individual Neanderthal ate plants," she added.