Researchers from George Washington University and the Smithsonian Institute discovered sufficient evidence disproving the accepted theory that the extinction of the Neandertals was partly due to their diet.
The study conducted on fossilized teeth of Neandertal remains uncovered in the Shanidar Cave in Iraq and the Spy Cave in Belgium revealed starch granules in the dental calculus of the fossilized teeth, which have been dated to be 40,000 years old. The presence of the said starch granules--which came from legumes, grains and other nutrient-rich plants--showed that the Neandertals may have had a more sophisticated and diverse type of diet than previously theorized.
Dr. Amanda Henry, a post-doctoral research from George Washington University, is credited with the said discovery along with Alison Brooks, a professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at George Washington University, and Dolores Piperno, curator of Archaeobotany and South American archaeology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C.
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.
Dr. Henry and her colleagues now propose that the discovery of starch granules, which were preserved as a result of the buildup of plaque on the dental calculus, indicate that not only was the diet of the Neandertals more diverse. They also provide direct evidence that they were extremely conscientious about what they ate in the same manner as modern humans today.
Aside from the discovery of the presence of starch granules, Dr. Henry and her colleagues also observed that some of these granules underwent some form of alteration--sufficient proof that the Neandertals prepared and cooked these starch-rich foods before actually consuming them.
In a statement made by Peg Barratt, Dean of George Washington University's Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, she describes the recent discovery as extremely significant as it "provides new insight on the plight of the Neandertal" as well as a shining example of the "dynamic partnership" the university has with the Smithsonian Institute to further advance the learning and discovery about the human specie.