Study Shares Insight Into Neanderthals' Complex Diet


| LAST UPDATE 12/14/2022

By Amie Alfaro
Neanderthal Ancient Cave Artifacts
Jaroslav A. Polák via Wikimedia Commons

A recently published study shows that the way Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens cooked their meals was surprisingly more complex than anyone initially thought. Let’s take a look.

During an excavation in caves in northern Iraq, researchers discovered what appears to be the charred remains of the oldest cooked meal. The burnt food was found in the Shanidar Cave site, 500 miles north of Baghdad. Chris Hunt, a professor at Liverpool John Moores University and a researcher involved with the study, told The Guardian, “Our findings are the first real indication of complex cooking – and thus of food culture – among Neanderthals.” This is an exciting find because it implies that Neanderthals had complex diets consisting of various foods, not just animal protein. Dr. Ceren Kabukcu, an archaeobotanist at the University of Liverpool and the leader of the study, said, “We present evidence for the first time of soaking and pounding pulse seeds by both Neanderthals and early modern humans (Homo sapiens) at both sites, and during both phases at Shanidar Cave.”

Shanidar Cave Northern Iraq
@azimkilic via Instagram
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The Shanidar Cave was originally excavated in the 1950s by a group of researchers from Columbia University. They also found charred remnants during that first expedition. Researchers believe that Neanderthals lived at this site beginning around 70,000 years ago, and early Homo sapiens are thought to have lived there approximately 40,000 years ago. The research group led by Dr. Kabukcu also excavated and analyzed food leftovers from the Franchthi Cave in southern Greece. It is believed that the Franchthi Cave was occupied by humans around 12,000 years ago. In both excavations, the research team identified similar use of plants and preparation techniques. According to a statement from the University of Liverpool, “From studying the food remains, the archaeologists found that complicated recipes formed part of the Palaeolithic diet, debunking the stereotype that Neanderthals relied on a largely meat-based diet. The study also identified that Palaeo-chefs used a range of tricks to make their food more palatable.”

The researchers have made a significant cave discovery - though it's not the first time. The team even tried recreating their recipe, which turned out to be “… a sort of pancake-cum-flatbread which was really very palatable – a sort of nutty taste,” according to Hunt. You can read the complete study.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below