Análise dentária demonstra que a extinção dos neandertais não se deu por dietas deficientes

sexta-feira, dezembro 31, 2010

Neandertals’ Extinction Not Caused by Deficient Diets, Tooth Analysis Shows

ScienceDaily (Dec. 30, 2010) — Researchers from George Washington University and the Smithsonian Institution have discovered evidence to debunk the theory that Neandertals' disappearance was caused in part by a deficient diet -- one that lacked variety and was overly reliant on meat. After discovering starch granules from plant food trapped in the dental calculus on 40-thousand-year-old Neandertal teeth, the scientists believe that Neandertals ate a wide variety of plants and included cooked grains as part of a more sophisticated, diverse diet similar to early modern humans.

Neandertal teeth from Shanidar cave. (Credit: George Washington University)

"Neandertals are often portrayed as very backwards or primitive," said Amanda Henry, lead researcher and a post-doctoral researcher at GW. "Now we are beginning to understand that they had some quite advanced technologies and behaviors."

Dr. Henry made this discovery together with Alison Brooks, professor of anthropology and international affairs at GW, and Dolores Piperno, a GW research professor and senior scientist and curator of archaeobotany and South American archaeology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C., and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama.

The discovery of starch granules in the calculus on Neandertal teeth provides direct evidence that they made sophisticated, thoughtful food choices and ate more nutrient-rich plants, for example date palms, legumes and grains such as barley. Until now, anthropologists have hypothesized that Neandertals were outlived by early modern humans due in part to the former's primitive, deficient diet, with some scientists arguing Neandertals' diets were specialized for meat-eating. As such, during major climate swings Neandertals could be outcompeted by early humans who incorporated diverse plant foods available in the local environment into their diets.

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Microfossils in calculus demonstrate consumption of plants and cooked foods in Neanderthal diets (Shanidar III, Iraq; Spy I and II, Belgium)

Amanda G. Henry a,b,1, Alison S. Brooks a, and Dolores R. Piperno b,c,1

-Author Affiliations

aDepartment of Anthropology, Center for Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology, Washington, DC 20052;
bArchaeobiology Laboratory, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC 20013-7012; and
cSmithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Box 2072 Balboa, Panama

Contributed by Dolores R. Piperno, November 12, 2010 (sent for review July 7, 2010)


The nature and causes of the disappearance of Neanderthals and their apparent replacement by modern humans are subjects of considerable debate. Many researchers have proposed biologically or technologically mediated dietary differences between the two groups as one of the fundamental causes of Neanderthal disappearance. Some scenarios have focused on the apparent lack of plant foods in Neanderthal diets. Here we report direct evidence for Neanderthal consumption of a variety of plant foods, in the form of phytoliths and starch grains recovered from dental calculus of Neanderthal skeletons from Shanidar Cave, Iraq, and Spy Cave, Belgium. Some of the plants are typical of recent modern human diets, including date palms (Phoenix spp.), legumes, and grass seeds (Triticeae), whereas others are known to be edible but are not heavily used today. Many of the grass seed starches showed damage that is a distinctive marker of cooking. Our results indicate that in both warm eastern Mediterranean and cold northwestern European climates, and across their latitudinal range, Neanderthals made use of the diverse plant foods available 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.


1To whom correspondence may be addressed. or

Author contributions: A.G.H., A.S.B., and D.R.P. designed research; A.G.H. performed research; A.G.H. and D.R.P. analyzed data; and A.G.H., D.R.P., and A.S.B. wrote the paper.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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