Naturwissenschaften

, Volume 99, Issue 8, pp 617–626

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

  • Karen Hardy
  • Stephen Buckley
  • Matthew J. Collins
  • Almudena Estalrrich
  • Don Brothwell
  • Les Copeland
  • Antonio García-Tabernero
  • Samuel García-Vargas
  • Marco de la Rasilla
  • Carles Lalueza-Fox
  • Rosa Huguet
  • Markus Bastir
  • David Santamaría
  • Marco Madella
  • Julie Wilson
  • Ángel Fernández Cortés
  • Antonio Rosas
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00114-012-0942-0

Cite this article as:
Hardy, K., Buckley, S., Collins, M.J. et al. Naturwissenschaften (2012) 99: 617. doi:10.1007/s00114-012-0942-0

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

NeanderthalsEl SidrónDental calculusDietSelf-medication

Supplementary material

114_2012_942_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (690 kb)
ESM 1(PDF 690 kb)
114_2012_942_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (25 kb)
ESM 2(PDF 24 kb)
114_2012_942_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (346 kb)
ESM 1(PDF 346 kb)
114_2012_942_MOESM4_ESM.pdf (140 kb)
ESM 4(PDF 139 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen Hardy
    • 1
  • Stephen Buckley
    • 2
  • Matthew J. Collins
    • 2
  • Almudena Estalrrich
    • 3
  • Don Brothwell
    • 2
  • Les Copeland
    • 4
  • Antonio García-Tabernero
    • 3
  • Samuel García-Vargas
    • 3
  • Marco de la Rasilla
    • 5
  • Carles Lalueza-Fox
    • 6
  • Rosa Huguet
    • 7
  • Markus Bastir
    • 3
  • David Santamaría
    • 5
  • Marco Madella
    • 8
  • Julie Wilson
    • 9
  • Ángel Fernández Cortés
    • 10
  • Antonio Rosas
    • 3
  1. 1.ICREA at Universitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.BioArChUniversity of YorkYorkUK
  3. 3.Paleoanthropology Group, Department of PaleobiologyMuseo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSICMadridSpain
  4. 4.Faculty of Agriculture and EnvironmentUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  5. 5.Área de Prehistoria, Departamento de HistoriaUniversidad de OviedoOviedoSpain
  6. 6.Institute of Evolutionary BiologyCSIC-Universitat Pompeu FabraBarcelonaSpain
  7. 7.Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (Unidad Asociada—CSIC) Universitat Rovira i VirgiliTarragonaSpain
  8. 8.ICREA at IMF-CSICBarcelonaSpain
  9. 9.YCCSAUniversity of YorkYorkUK
  10. 10.Departamento de GeologíaMuseo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales CSICMadridSpain