Original Paper

Naturwissenschaften

, Volume 99, Issue 8, pp 617-626

Neanderthal medics? Evidence for food, cooking, and medicinal plants entrapped in dental calculus

  • Karen HardyAffiliated withICREA at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona Email author 
  • , Stephen BuckleyAffiliated withBioArCh, University of York
  • , Matthew J. CollinsAffiliated withBioArCh, University of York
  • , Almudena EstalrrichAffiliated withPaleoanthropology Group, Department of Paleobiology, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC
  • , Don BrothwellAffiliated withBioArCh, University of York
  • , Les CopelandAffiliated withFaculty of Agriculture and Environment, University of Sydney
  • , Antonio García-TaberneroAffiliated withPaleoanthropology Group, Department of Paleobiology, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC
  • , Samuel García-VargasAffiliated withPaleoanthropology Group, Department of Paleobiology, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC
  • , Marco de la RasillaAffiliated withÁrea de Prehistoria, Departamento de Historia, Universidad de Oviedo
    • , Carles Lalueza-FoxAffiliated withInstitute of Evolutionary Biology, CSIC-Universitat Pompeu Fabra
    • , Rosa HuguetAffiliated withInstitut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (Unidad Asociada—CSIC) Universitat Rovira i Virgili
    • , Markus BastirAffiliated withPaleoanthropology Group, Department of Paleobiology, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC
    • , David SantamaríaAffiliated withÁrea de Prehistoria, Departamento de Historia, Universidad de Oviedo
    • , Marco MadellaAffiliated withICREA at IMF-CSIC
    • , Julie WilsonAffiliated withYCCSA, University of York
    • , Ángel Fernández CortésAffiliated withICREA at Universitat Autònoma de BarcelonaDepartamento de Geología, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales CSIC
    • , Antonio RosasAffiliated withPaleoanthropology Group, Department of Paleobiology, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC

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Abstract

Neanderthals disappeared sometime between 30,000 and 24,000 years ago. Until recently, Neanderthals were understood to have been predominantly meat-eaters; however, a growing body of evidence suggests their diet also included plants. We present the results of a study, in which sequential thermal desorption-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (TD-GC-MS) and pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (Py-GC-MS) were combined with morphological analysis of plant microfossils, to identify material entrapped in dental calculus from five Neanderthal individuals from the north Spanish site of El Sidrón. Our results provide the first molecular evidence for inhalation of wood-fire smoke and bitumen or oil shale and ingestion of a range of cooked plant foods. We also offer the first evidence for the use of medicinal plants by a Neanderthal individual. The varied use of plants that we have identified suggests that the Neanderthal occupants of El Sidrón had a sophisticated knowledge of their natural surroundings which included the ability to select and use certain plants.

Keywords

Neanderthals El Sidrón Dental calculus Diet Self-medication