(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists in Germany and France have discovered that the Neanderthals, who lived in the Iberian Peninsula in the Cueva de los Moros cave area in Gabas, were predators of the highest order, who preferred to eat the muscles and liver of herbivores.
The researchers came to this conclusion based on the analysis of zinc isotopes in tooth enamel. The results of scientific work are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Previous studies of the tartar of ancient people from the Iberian Peninsula (Iberia) revealed that they consumed mainly plants. At the same time, the analysis of the remains of Neanderthals who lived in other regions shows that they did not consume almost anything but meat.
To determine the position of an animal or ancient people in the food chain, scientists extracted collagen proteins and analyzed the ratio of nitrogen isotopes.
However, over time, collagen degrades at a rate that depends on environmental conditions, so this method is only applicable to specimens preserved in temperate climates and less than 50,000 years old.
In a new study, scientists analyzed the ratio of zinc-66 to zinc-64 isotopes in tooth enamel, which is resistant to many forms of degradation. It is known that the isotope ratio decreases by about 0.3-0.6 ppm with each step in the food chain, that is, for herbivores, Zn-66 / Zn-64 will be higher than for predators.
The samples included a tooth from the Neanderthal cave site Cueva de los Moros in Gabas (Spain), as well as the remains of carnivores and herbivores such as lynxes, foxes, wolves, rabbits, deer and chamois.
In order to eliminate the influence of external factors on the ratio of zinc isotopes, the ratios of other isotopes, including strontium, oxygen and carbon, were measured in rocks, soils, plants and teeth.
The ratio of isotopes of strontium-87 and strontium-86 indicate the features of local geology, and the ratio of carbon and oxygen isotopes indicate the properties of the ecological environment from which Neanderthals received food.
The results showed that in the Neanderthal from Gabas, the ratio of zinc isotopes is characteristic of a predator of the highest order, occupying the top position in the food chain.
Data on carbon and oxygen isotopes show that the Neanderthal lived in the vicinity of the Cueva de los Moro cave, getting food from the local ecosystem.
The ratio of strontium isotopes in tooth enamel turned out to be similar to the ratio of strontium isotopes in other animals, so the Neanderthal did not come from another place.
The author of the work notes that the Neanderthals in Gabas are the most carnivorous species among primates and the only non-Carnivora meat-eater among the local fauna.
Therefore, this species of the genus Homo could have specific adaptations of the intestinal tract compared to other predators and primates and have specific food preferences.
Thus, the low value of the ratio of zinc isotopes may indicate that Neanderthals were inclined to consume the muscles and liver of deer and rabbits.
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