Neanderthals ate their veggies, too: all-meat diet a myth

(Photo: "Romanesco," contributed to the Boing Boing Flickr Pool by BB reader Wokka.)

Paleo and raw foodie diet flame war in the comments, commence! New findings show that that early hominids ate and even cooked their vegetables. Researchers in the archaeobiology laboratory at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC have found remnants of date palms, seeds and legumes (including peas and beans) stuck in the teeth of three Neanderthals unearthed in caves in Iraq and Belgium. Neanderthals went extinct approximately 28,000 years ago. Snip:

Among the scraps of food embedded in the plaque on the Neanderthals' teeth were particles of starch from barley and water lilies that showed tell-tale signs of having been cooked. The Ice Age leftovers are believed to be the first direct evidence that the Neanderthal diet included cooked plants as well as meat obtained by hunting wild animals.

Piperno said the discoveries even raised the possibility that male and female Neanderthals had different roles in acquiring and preparing food. "The plants we found are all foods associated with early modern human diets, but we now know Neanderthals were exploiting those plants and cooking them, too. When you cook grains it increases their digestibility and nutritional value," she added.

The findings bring fresh evidence to the long debate over why Neanderthals and not our direct ancestors, the early modern humans, went extinct.

Neanderthals may have feasted on meat and two veg diet (Guardian)
Neanderthals cooked and ate vegetables (BBC News)
2010: A Good Year For Neanderthals (And DNA) (NPR News)

All of these news reports are based on a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal, which is subscription-only: Microfossils in calculus demonstrate consumption of plants and cooked foods in Neanderthal diets (Shanidar III, Iraq; Spy I and II, Belgium) . The (free) abstract is here.


  1. I suppose I’ll get this started:

    Veganism sucks! But so do people who consume large quantities of meat/dairy.


    1. Veganism doesn’t suck. I’ve been eating herbivorously as an experiment (with a few exceptions, a bite of fish or a sip of dairy on occasion early on) for about a year, and I can assure you that it doesn’t suck. I’m pretty sure I’ll stick with it indefinitely. Maybe I won’t, and maybe it’s not perfect for everyone on the whole planet, but it’s been working for me and other members of my family who tried it.

      I’ve always found the “Neanderthals did it, so it must be good, and if they didn’t, it’s bad” argument for the paleo diet to be odd, anyway. We have more options than hominids 40,000 years ago did. And why not extend the argument to other things: Do you walk outside your house dressed in deer carcasses, and beat your girlfriend with a club, too? If a Neanderthal told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it, huh? Huh? huh?

      1. I didn’t realize the raw foodies were holding up Neanderthals as an example to emulate. Doesn’t seem very rational to base your behavior on a species that went extinct…

      2. No hard feelings, Xeni. I took your mention of comment flamewar as a challenge.

        In truth, I admire Vegans for their fortitude. I know that I couldn’t go whole hog and cut out an entire family of foods. I don’t have the will.

        I had an amazing raw pizza at Cafe Gratitude in the Mission the last time I was in SF.

      3. Do you walk outside your house dressed in deer carcasses, and beat your girlfriend with a club, too?

        Stop judging me!

      4. Xeni, cultural/technological proceeds evolution at a much much faster rate than the biological evolution of our bodies. The cost/benefit calculation for adopting the latest cultural and fashion innovations into our lives is pretty obviously weighted towards the benefits. However, the way we metabolize what we eat has yet to catch up to the innovations in agriculture and animal husbandry that occurred tens of thousands of years ago – let along the ‘innovations’ made in the western industrialized food system. The cost/benefit analysis for including these innovations in our diet isn’t quite so clear – and is pretty obviously negative when considering many of the innovations made in the last 100 years or so.

        1. But i’m not arguing that we should adopt a velveeta and twinkies diet, or in fact that any processed foods are good. My thing is somewhere in the Pollan spectrum of “eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” only in my case, I’ve chosen to eat solely plants.

        2. You are describing something here, but it is not evolution.

          It makes no sense to say that “cultural/technological proceeds evolution at a much much faster rate than the biological evolution of our bodies.” Our bodies do not evolve. Only species evolve.

          As a species we are clearly thriving (at the moment) on our terrible high fructose corn syrup and Monsanto frankenfoods diets. I, like almost everyone I know, hates these things and thinks they should be banned, but from the looks of things *right now* – which is all you can judge to see whether a species is thriving – humans are far from endangered.

          Now it is the case that certain individuals will suffer or die – gluten allergies, diabetes, etc. But as long as they reach the age to breed and manage to pass on their genes, they are successful in evolutionary terms. If they die before they breed their genes fall out of the pool and those individuals who have the genetic make-up to tolerate wheat etc. move on and breed, passing that trait to offspring.

          That’s how evolution works. It makes no sense at all to say that culture evolves faster than our bodies. Culture is just something that gets you into bed with other individuals to breed as far as evolution is concerned. And you can either breed or you can’t.

          Also, evolution is not “progressive” – that’s the rhetoric applied to it by positivism / modernity. There are no metabolisms that need to “catch up” to agricultural innovations. That doesn’t make any sense. There is no ideal digestive tract, there is just the one that functions well enough and long enough to get you to a place where you can breed with another individual.

          Sorry to be pedantic, but this stuff drives me nuts.

      5. As far as I know (and I’m an anthropologist), we don’t have any evidence that Neanderthals beat each other with clubs. Which is not to say they didn’t, but I’m not a huge fan of the dumb brute stereotype the image conjures up.

        And now I sound like those Geico caveman commercials.

        Seriously though, Neanderthals were very, very similar to us, and this new research just gives us one more example of that.

  2. It is no surprise that they ate veggies, they ate anything they could get their hands on (and teeth into).

  3. Raw foodists are probably going to have a harder time digesting this research than paleo-dieters, as most paleo diet proponents advocate eating lots of veggies, both cooked and raw. And the inclusion of older grains like barley is accepted by quite a few as well.

    1. That’s a good point.

      FWIW, no disrespect to those guys — I love eating raw foodie food, and believe it’s important to include raw fruits and veggies and even uncooked fermented plants in your diet — but I am a believer in cooked foods, too.

      That said, the world is a diverse place, and humans are a diverse species. What works for me may not work for you, and to each his own.

    2. I concur. As someone who recently switched from a paleo to a vegan diet there wasn’t a whole lot of difficulty involved. It was mostly a matter of dropping meat and eggs and adding a lot more veggies.

      1. Yeah, I might write about it more in the future, but — this thing people say of “it’s so hard” and “i crave meat and cheese” just wasn’t the case for me. It was not only easy, but it was fun. I rediscovered flavors and foods I hadn’t focused on before, and appreciated things in new ways. I went back and ate fish and dairy and eggs a few times early on to see if I was missing anything, and just kept coming to the conclusion that I preferred what I’d now adapted to, a totally plant-based diet.

        One day at a time in all things, but so far so good. YMMV.

        1. I think childhood norms play a huge part. I was actually raised in a different family than the aforementioned carnivores: we were eating whole grain bread, margarine, and fresh (rather than canned) fruits and vegetables in the 1960s. Also — as much due to financial restrictions as progressive thinking — eating small amounts of animal products as components in a diverse diet rather than slabs of meat as the central ingredient. So, going vegetarian in the late 1970s wasn’t a huge leap for me. I didn’t crave steaks because I’d almost never eaten one, anyway.

          Even more, my children (who have always been vegetarian) don’t see any purpose to meat analogs. They don’t need the chewing sensation of fake (or real) ground beef in their spaghetti sauce or raw fish in their sushi.

          It was amazing to hear them rhapsodize on the plane ride back about all the food they wanted to eat when they finally got home. Risotto, chili, shepherd’s pie, tacos, sushi, pesto pasta, stir fry…even “just plain old vegetables and fruits”, as my oldest daughter begged. A vegetarian diet is as interesting and diverse as you want to make it, and easy enough to cook.

        2. Over the past few years, I’ve cut down my meat consumption about 80% (and still working on it), but I really don’t think I could give up dairy.

          Then again, the family business on my dad’s side is wholesale Italian foods. Cheese featured very, very prominently in my childhood.

  4. I thought the neanderthals went extinct because they didn’t believe in Jesus. At least that’s what they taught me in catholic grade school.

    1. I thought the neanderthals went extinct because they didn’t believe in Jesus. At least that’s what they taught me in catholic grade school.

      That can’t be right. Neanderthals disappeared around 30,000 years ago. While the earth has been only around for 6,000 years or so.

      And from following the rest of the discussion, I assume the Neanderthals were actually wiped out by militant vegans. :(

  5. Pretty much all boutique diets/food source philosophies hyperfocus on a couple random details and completely ignore a much larger ecosystem of variables that would determine the optimal diet an INDIVIDUAL is adapted for, or that have the lowest ecological impact.

    That Neanderthals ate some vegetation has a whole heck of a lot less impact on what I should eat than the genes I inherited from my much more recent ancestors and the diets their people adapted to, as well as how those genes have been expressed. My very stable blood sugar makes a good deal of sense given the conditions of my ancestry, as does the fluctuations in my wife’s blood sugar given the conditions of her ancestry. Additionally my tolerance for lactose makes a good deal of sense, while her lack of tolerance similarly does. Neanderthals have very little to do with either of these things, as there have been a lot of localized selective pressures since we shared a common ancestor. Anyone who thinks that Neanderthal diet should dictate our diet is fairly off base (also, its not like the sample size here lets us draw any real conclusions about the species as a whole – though if anthropologists cared about little things like scientific rigor they wouldn’t have removed the word science from the AAA’s charter)

  6. I’m with Xeni on this one. I tried veganism a couple years back. I lasted about four months until one day when a Primanti Brothers turkey sandwich tempted me and caused me to fall off the wagon. During that four months I lost some weight, my blood pressure dropped to healthier levels and I felt great. It takes a lot of meal planning and label reading (which is good to do anyway), but it’s totally worth trying. A buddy of mine just had a heart attack at age 40 (he’s neither heavyset nor a smoker) and it is scaring me into giving veganism another shot. I just need to strengthen my will power (and stay away from Primanti Brothers).

    1. But is a life without Primanti Brothers really a life worth living? Now I’m all nostalgic for Pittsburgh, argh.

    2. My hat goes off to anyone that that manages to live as a vegan or even try it. I’ve so far managed only to cut out meat and while I really don’t miss it at all, the stick I get for not eating meat from the family makes it a lot harder than it should be. My niece remarked on xmas day when she brought over some nibbles for us that it was such a pain shopping for things that had no meat and that soon I’d be living on a diet of water the way I was going.

      The thing is I never judge anyone for eating meat. If you want to, have at it. I keep my opinions on meat eating mostly to myself but still it seems I’m a target for reasons I’m just not sure of.

      I hope you go full vegan again but mostly I hope you don’t get hassled for your choices.

      1. Bummer for you, man. That’s dumb.

        Social pressure from friends or family who think veganism is bad really sucks.

        My theory of why so many punks and freaks go vegan is that we’ve already learned that much of what The Normals take for granted is wrong or bullshit, and we’re willing to risk being socially ostracized for lifestyle choices. If I worried about what my blood relatives thought, my life experience would never have led me to being a blogger on Boing Boing, that’s for sure. :)

        1. If I worried about what my blood relatives thought, I’d be a hoarder, a carnivore, and probably a jerk!

  7. don’t know where to start… some kind of logical fallacies going on here for which I can’t be bothered to look up Latin names.

    here are some well-established facts:
    – people (and neanderpeople) obviously ate meat throughout history
    – people (and neanderpeople) obviously ate plants throughout history
    – people (and neanderpeople) obviously ate both cooked and raw food at least for hundreds of thousands of years if not millions

    the controversy xeni seems to be trying to stir up involves the relative proportion of these practices in the pre-historic human diet, and how ancient they might be, since many people believe that a long-held eating practice is something our bodies are better adapted to. it’s a great argument to have, but I don’t think there is any new evidence in that respect.

    for the record, I am an athlete who eats liberal amounts of animal fat, muscle and organs, fair amounts of eggs, cheese and vegetables, and minimal grains and sugar.

    1. RTFA! the study debunks some previous scientific assertions that Neandertals were effectively carnivorous, and that they went extinct because meat became unavailable.

      1. I like the Sci-Fi story postulate that Neanderthals went extinct because they were tele-empaths, and the inherent Narcissism of the H. Sapiens that began to crowd them caused such psychic pain that they gave up and died out.

        I think it was a Larry Niven story, but I’m too lazy to research it.

  8. I’m fairly convinced that most of the ‘benefits’ touted as a result of a vegetarian, vegan, raw, or even hipro/locarb diet are due, not to the diet itself, but to the fact you have to pay an enormous amount of attention to what you are eating and how you prepare it.

  9. Ooooooh… veggie vs blood sucking meat eater flamewar!
    Can I play?

    Understanding what you are eating, moderating how much of each thing you eat, and generally not being an a*hole about it seems to be the most logical diet…
    I had a discussion with a (damn hippie) cousin of mine (actually a series of discussions) which caused me to try to cut down the amount of meat in my diet to more sensible levels.
    It just doesn’t seem healthy to be extreme in this matter. We need a little meat for normal vitamin levels (we know that bio-available B12 comes only from meat, an average of a few grams a day needed. Long term deficiency of B12 results in nerve damage and death, not good for developing children either) and other necessary nutrients may be contained in the delicious bloody stuff. Just face it, we don’t have a perfect understanding of the needs of the human machine, including the brain and nervous system (and I say this without any hesitation as a cognitive science major).
    Veggies and fruit are good for us, some raw, some cooked. Fish is good for us. So are eggs.

    It’s the nutters trying to sell these ‘All or nothing’ methods of eating that seem to be the losers (and those that don’t think about what they put into themselves at all).
    It seems to be about balance, amounts, variety and just common sense.

    I’ve seen too many grey and lifeless vegetarians/vegans/rawfooders and too many bloated, corpulent and pink baconaisers.

    I think I will take the middle road on this one. And Xeni, enjoy your mostly vegan lifestyle. Nothing wrong with it, and nothing wrong with enjoying the occasional meat/chicken/etc. Life is good :)

    1. I’ll take issue with the factual element of the B12 portion of your comments. So, I’ve had my blood tested a few times since going totally vegan, and my B12 levels are fine. There are indeed “bioavailable” non-animal sources for B12, namely nutritional yeast, which I happen to love. I’ve heard some say that little trace critters and microorganisms on organic produce also contribute. Supplements are an option, too.

      That said, I’m not a nazi, and don’t question the choices of my friends who do consume animal products.

      1. Xeni, B12 CAN be cultivated, but it is not naturally occurring in nutritional yeast. The B12 is cultivated separately and added to the finished product. I am aware also that B12 CAN be cultivated from bacteria, which is a relatively new (a few decades old) process for mass production. That just wasn’t my point. The point is that we know that our bodies seem to have adapted quite strongly to meat in certain ways (like not producing its own B12 or absorbing it from veggies) and it must be considered likely that other adaptations exist.

        And the B12 reserves of a fully grown person such as yourself takes years to diminish. Around three years of a traditional vegan diet without supplemental B12 intake CAN result in seriously lowered B12, and around 5 years can bring irreversible damage. Children are, of course, much more sensitive to this.

        From the above I would argue that a sensible approach is required, taking into account our long adaptation to an omnivorous diet, and balancing that against modern health concerns as well as showing some responsibility towards our environment.
        And it was eminently clear from your original point that your view on the veganism is not extremist.

        But an added bonus: One reason why many people feel better when changing diets (whether it is TO veganism, FROM Veganism, TO Atkins or whatever) is that they used to stuff whatever was at hand into their mouths, but their new diet requires them to think about what they eat. And then you lose weight and get more healthy..
        Of course we feel sluggish when our bellies are always above full with McDonald’s and pork pies. We’re always eating, and never thinking about it. Surprise, surprise…
        If a Vegan would eat in the same manner (stuffing a kilo of cabbage into their stomachs) whey would feel pretty awful too. But because their diet (whatever it is) involves thinking about the content and amount of food they eat most people on a specific diet wouldn’t do that. Even if the dish they’re eating IS delicious.

        1. If a Vegan would eat in the same manner (stuffing a kilo of cabbage into their stomachs) whey would feel pretty awful too.

          Yeah, they’d smell pretty awful too. Break out the beano!

        2. A sensible response. Proceeding with caution, and keeping an eye on data, is the best approach, I think. I also agree that an increased mindfulness about food is good!

        3. I won’t comment on the B12 portion of your comment (I’m not versed on the current literature; I’m a vegetarian who takes a shot of cod liver oil every once in a while to play it safe).

          I will chime in on your comment about thinking about what you’re eating, though. I’ve met more than a few vegans who seemed to subsist upon fries and potato chips, were overweight, and felt horrible. A path to health doesn’t necessarily involve vegetarianism (for me, that evolved over time), but simply considering what one is eating and making small changes can make a huge difference. Cutting out the soda, learning how to cook (something other than instant foods, spaghetti, and mac & cheese), and eating out less made a huge difference for me. It cost me more in time spent, but made up for it in terms of money saved and just feeling better.

        4. You make excellent points, but *reasonable* (i.e., not ignorant extremist) vegetarians and vegans know to get enough B12 in various ways. It’s not hard to do. Blackstrap molasses is another source, and yeasts/bacteria are more prevalent in general foods than most people realize, whether purposely added or naturally occurring. Recent studies have shown that even the spice mixes used in many cultures (curries in India, for example) provide essential nutrients, which no one had bothered to measure before. It all adds up.

          Our pediatrician is not a fan of vegetarian diets, so she always checks such levels as part of the kids’ annual visits, and their numbers are always on target (as evidenced by their scholastic abilities, too).

          1. I should also chime in and share that my MD isn’t pro-vegetarian at all. He’s a meat eater, and skeptical of veganism. He expressed real concern about nutrient levels, and we agreed to do regular testing as a way to confirm that what I believed to be a sensible vegan diet was in fact providing the nutrients I need. So far so good.

          2. No, exactly, B12 is no problem if you’re aware of the issue. But as I said; this is a clear adaption of our metabolism towards an omnivorous diet. It may be seen as sensible (or at least *I* see it as sensible) to consider that other such adaptations may exist which we are not fully aware of yet. A proper (as you say, non-extremist ad non-ignorant) vegetarian knows that his diet has some limitations and will compensate accordingly AS FAR AS IS KNOWN. That’s really the issue here. The requirements for healthy neuronal functioning are only partly understood, as are many other core processes within our bodies.
            As advanced and wonderful as our understanding of our own bodies is, it is still incomplete. I would always take the safe bet myself. My background understanding of the matter is that I am currently (at an *old* age) studying cognitive science (including some neuroscience), and am starting to see more of the incredible complexity and beauty of these processes, as well as the limitations of our understanding even at the cutting edge of these sciences. So I tread carefully :)

            As I personally don’t have issues with animals being killed for inclusion on my plate this is easy for me to say, but I understand the point of those who do not like animals (or rather, the other animals) to be killed for this purpose. I do prefer meat from animals which I know to be treated ethically, and the farmers and hunters that I’ve known are generally much more respectful of the animals than the regular purebred townies I’ve known (I was raised near the farms of a few of my relatives and spent some time on farms, as well as tagging along with hunters).

            @Dillinger, agreed and understood :)

          3. Xeni is correct in her statement that B12 occurs naturally due to bacteria in the soil. The problem is that these bacteria are killed off by chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Organic root vegetables (with the skins kept on) are excellent sources of B12. It stands to reason that our ancestors also ate roots in addition to whatever meat they could get hold of. I would also be interested to know how other primates who are almost entirely vegetarian deal with B12, or if they even need to ingest it, and if they don’t at what point did we begin?

            I’ve been vegan for nearly 12 years and have no B12 deficiency which would normally occur within 3-5 years.

  10. But the REALLY interesting bit is of course how advanced the Neanderthals were, and how modern research suggests that they interbred with our ancestors. THAT is all quite interesting. They also seem to have had bigger brains/mass ratios and stronger bodies on the whole. Conquest through assimilation?
    Homo Sapiens: Shagging our way to victory, one species at a time…

  11. I never realized people thought Neanderthals didn’t eat vegetables. That doesn’t make sense- meat is hard to catch and doesn’t keep very well, so if you find something tasty, you eat it! I think proto-history diets make sense because fat and sugar were scarce, and they do help to cause many health problems, but its not a good enough case for raw food. I mean, we invented pesticides and preservatives because we needed them. Now we have more food and it lasts longer- overall, its a win, and we shouldn’t go backwards, progress wise, if it helps us feed more people. Same goes for genetically modified foods, there is nothing Frankensteinenian going on and there is a reason we do it-to feed millions more people than we could have! I hear the future is going towards a post-scarcity world, and I hope we get there!

  12. Clearly the key to healthy living is.. eating healthy and not being a lazy slob.
    I am absolutely certain that “eating right” is the most important thing one can do to maintain overall health. Next is keeping stress levels low.
    I am also absolutely certain that any one particular diet (vegan, vegetarian, omnivore) is better than the other from a purely pragmatic standpoint. FWIW, I could never be vegan, because there is no way on earth I could give up cheese.

  13. Just got back from a week with many of my carnivore (no, not omnivore…virtually 100% carnivore) relatives. The medical problems are just what you’d expect. Plus, mental slowness. Lack of fruits, vegetables and whole grains are not good for your brain (or your digestive system).

    Having said that, I think arikol explains the Middle Way very well, and of course Xeni represents the non-extreme-but-definitely-left-of-center way excellently.

    I am slightly to the right of Xeni (vegetarian, not vegan), thanks to living in the Midwest and having to spend a lot of family time with the aforementioned carnivores. I think it’s probably true that a little animal protein of some type is the best compromise for most people, but for those who can’t/won’t maintain their diet at that exact balancing point, erring on the side of more plants and no animal is healthier (for the vast majority) than more animal and fewer plants.

  14. Since when have paleo diet advocates claimed that paleolithic peoples ate an all meat diet? Maybe, there have been some papers that made this claim about Neanderthals, but feel free to scour Art DeVaneys, Loren Cordains, Mark Sissons, Robb Wolfs, and Stephen Guynets websites for such claims. On the contrary, you’ll find both the promotion of veggies, and facts and/or links to facts about paleo peoples veggie consumption as part of their overall diet.

  15. That said, the world is a diverse place, and humans are a diverse species. What works for me may not work for you, and to each his own.

    Well said, Xeni! That’s the big thing that all the fanatics miss; there is no single nutritional optimum for the entire human species, and it’s really pretty retarded to think there could be one. Just read history and look around you, and you’ll read about (and see) perfectly healthy people with diets that would kill you or me in a just a few years.

    Myself, I haven’t had anything to eat or drink but hard cider for decades. I’m perfectly healthy, too – or would be, if it wasn’t for these damned foxes giving me ulcers.

  16. This study does nothing to change my view of the Paleo diet. As soon as there is evidence that paleolithic humans ate refined wheat flour, purified sugar, and processed nut and seed oils, then I’ll worry.

    1. Molly, define “processed” ;)
      That’s what we humans do, we ferment, heat, grind and otherwise mess with everything we eat. Some of that is to make the food edible, some is to better store food for the winter.
      Aaaaand sometimes we go too far (bleaching of flour, for instance) or at least unnecessarily far. Pressed and filtered oil is, however, as clean and nice as it comes. You can do it at home, if you want.

      @Xeni, :)

  17. “…have found remnants of date palms, seeds and legumes (including peas and beans) stuck in the teeth of three Neanderthals unearthed in caves in Iraq and Belgium. Neanderthals went extinct approximately 28,000 years ago. ”

    Obvious conclusion: Failure to brush your teeth will lead to extinction of the species.

    “Do you walk outside your house dressed in deer carcasses…”

    *carcasses*???? ewwww!

    1. Wearing carcasses is clearly perfectly suitable—if you’re going to the Emmys and need to shock some people. Deboned is much easier, because it will drape better.

  18. More people should start following my diet–vegetarian/raw food, low carb, low fat during the week; soul food (or your choice of comfort food) on the weekends. I’ve been doing this since July 1st and lost (checks scale) 41 lbs so far.

    Damnit, now you got me all hungry :P

  19. fresh, natural, unprocessed, mostly plants. not too hard guys. gotta eat meat too ppl. its common sense because it makes sense. not sayin u cant eat a bacon double cheeseburger, just sayin that if the cheese is cheese “product” and the bacon is soaked in preservatives, it aint so good for you.

  20. I have been on bodybuilding websites for years and my experience with the paleodiet was that it was all about eating meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts. There has always been talk about Neanderthals eating only meats and only vegetables for short periods of times and that kind of made sense. If you get a large carcass you must eat it before it spoils and there will be times when hunting fails and your diet is only gathered plants and nuts. Today athletes will cut weight by eating carb filled meals early in the day and switching to protein only meal as the day goes on. In my many years of reading manly articles about building muscle like a caveman i have never read an article that stated that Neanderthals were carnivores.

  21. I’m not surprised our ancestors ate veggies as well as meat. We are an adaptable species, afterall. In my opinion, the view that we are all meateaters at heart is often connected with a pseudoscientific interpretation of Darwinism that the bleakest, most selfish “red in tooth and claw” option must be true. Its like rather than getting rid of a violent old testament god, they’ve simply renamed him Gene ;-)

    Been veggie since 1985. It has always been a personal choice and I make no judgement whatsoever of people who eat meat (as my family do). Occasionally I find SOME meateaters demand that I justify my decision to them as if its any of their business. I usually tell them I personally wouldn’t be prepared to kill an animal so it would be hypocritical for me eat one. I then tell them I have more respect for someone who could kill what they eat rather than someone who prefers to imagine their supermarket meat comes from magic land.

  22. I agree with MollyMaguire. This study doesn’t contradict a Paleo diet. We’re obviously not designed to be pure carnivores as our digestive system does just fine with green vegetables, nuts, some fruits (in their more primitive, less fructose-full forms). But the proportion of meat would always have been significant, and there were little if any of the modern processed grains, legumes, and starches (let alone sugar) that are staples in the modern diet, especially the diet of vegetarians.

    Worldwide health (measured by stature, disease) declined with the Neolithic transition to a grain-based diet. The question is how much evolution has occurred in 10,000 years–how much certain populations have been able to adapt. I argue, against my other Paleo friends, that different populations must have, in that time, been selected for greater tolerance of processed carbs. Europeans do better with them than some American Indian groups, for example, who quickly became pictures of extreme obesity and diabetes when adopting the Western diet in the last century. Inuit subsisted solely on meat and animal fat–lots and lots of animal fat–and were perfectly healthy. On the other hand (my friends point out), Asian Indians–a largely vegetarian culture–have extremely high levels of diabetes.

    Two excellent books on this overall subject are The Vegetarian Myth (by Lierre Keith) and Good Calories, Bad Calories (by Gary Taubes).

    1. Good Calories, Bad Calories is one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read. Taubes should get some sort of award for digging as deeply into nutritional science as he has.

      Now if we could invent a time machine, travel back in time, and somehow remove Keyes from the history books… ahhh, a boy can dream, right?

  23. I surprised by the lack of knowledge on vitamin B12 when there is so much information about it on the web. First, you need about 2.4 to 2.8 micro-grams of it per day. That’s 24/10,000,000 to 28/10,000,000 grams and there are 453 grams in a pound. Second, the only natural source of B12 are animals products including shellfish, eggs, dairy, and insects.

    The Neanderthals didn’t have reliable agriculture so they would eat high-energy, low-fibre food in times of plenty and anything they could catch during famines, and plants are easier to catch than animals.

    I’m not surprised that they cooked their food. Cooking softens food which is needed by humanoids since the muscles are weaker than animals. This is so our jaws muscles won’t rid apart our skulls. The human skull doesn’t complete fuse together until about age 20. So cooking lead directly to big brains in humans.

  24. Does that mean our great-great-great-grandchildren may live in a world of two kinds of humans, the descendants of mindful eaters and the descendants of fast/over-processed food eaters?

    1. Braid a pot from some leaves/grasses. Fill with water. place smooshed-up vegetable matter in water. Place leaf-pot on the rocks by the fire. The boiling water keeps the pot from burning (tho’ it will char a bit). Rehearse for 10 generations until perfected.

  25. I modestly propose that we continue reviewing Neanderthal diets until I get an article that says I can eat babby (sic). I know I’m not the only parent who has nibbled on a succulent babby (sic) cheek or ear or thigh just to hear the giggles. . . only to feel the urge to bite a little harder or maybe even swallow the babby (sic) whole. . . there’s no denying babbies (sic) ARE food- I mean, have you SEEN their cute lil toes? OMG! soooo TASTY.

  26. An equally plausible theory, they ate the stomach and the stomach contents of the herbivore they just killed. That only makes then, in theory, coincidental omnivores.

    1. Anon: So prehistoric bison and mammoth were raising barley and cooking it too? That’s awesome, I had no idea!

    2. That’s an interesting theory! The full report doesn’t support that theory, but I admire your clever and inquisitive thinking.

  27. Why argue about the past how they may or may not have lived, instead look to the future – what action we need to take to have exist in a sustainable manner, take control of our health and live positive. For me, being vegan is one way I live sustainable (see the UN report Livestock’s Long Shadow, for instance), I eat mainly raw because that is what my body responds to best, I have cut out processed and refined foods, and I buy local, organic and grow my own produce (in a tiny suburban veggie plot).

    I choose to live positive by keeping an optimistic mindset, engaging in discourse and deconstruction, and actively pull myself out of a cynical perspectives. It’s cool to be cynical and say “meh” but if we’re all cynical, who’s going to stand up and get mad at things like the TSA and that kind of bullshit. Read about enough of this stuff and it’s overwhelming, so we switch off. Then our governments and corporations can get away with manipulating our lives and we’re so over it, that we just let it happens.

    What I am over is the vegan / antivegan arguments. As Xeni said, what’s right for me may not be right for you. And Anti/Non-Vegans are just as argumentative and trollish as some vegans can be. I’d like to see people get off their high horses and instead of focusing on attacking each other (especially my fellow vegans, who so many do this) focus our attention instead on justice, human rights, personal freedoms and sustainability etc all which are a much greater threat than an individual with certain food choices.

  28. Extant apes are herbivorous or omnivorous. Whoever though this one extinct subspecies would be exclusively carnivorous?

  29. I’ve done well enough to remain almost exclusively vegetarian the past few decades or so and plan to remain so in the future. I can see no immediate harm in eating meat, just not so much of it, while paying attention to the quality of meat products one is consuming.

    I enjoy being able to moderate my weight, size and blood pressure with relative ease, as compared to my non-vegetarian friends who are around my age. My digestive system works extremely well and almost never do I present a noticeable or unpleasant body odor.

    Once again, I’ve no problem with the consumption of meat, dairy, poultry, egg or fish, but just not so much, OK? Thanks. Robert.

  30. I was suspicious of the “meat only” hypothesis from the start, simply because it seems to give our distant ancestors a lot of credit for hunting skills.

    Plus, if you’re hungry enough, you’ll eat anything.

  31. Eating a PB&J sandwich on whole grain bread with blueberries.

    It’s mah favorite food.

    However, I can never be veg(etari)an: The pastrami sandwich at Cindi’s NY Deli in downtown Dallas forevermore owns my top spot in delicious foods.

    Yummy, Yummy cooked cow.

  32. Fire and cooking have been a mystery for a long time. People have written whole books on the subject.

    As soon as humans have fire they cook their food, that would imply cooking is instinctive. How did humans develop a cooking instinct? Just how back does fire usage go? Is using fire also instinctive? The answer to this question becomes even stranger when you consider how many animals have an instinctive FEAR of fire.

    1. As soon as humans have fire they cook their food, that would imply cooking is instinctive.

      Or that once you’re sheltering around a fire, food is both easy to warm by accident and tasty afterwards.

  33. I call myself a pseudo-vegetarian. My husband is vegetarian (no meat of any kind, but does eat dairy and eggs) and therefore, we cook at home almost strictly veggie (lots and lots of Indian foods). However, my body does need meat once in a while. I probably eat a small portion of meat about once a week, once every two weeks. Depends on where I’m at in my cycle (eewww, girl stuff!).

  34. ‘the early modern humans’
    I wish I was naming a band today. I’m gonna fashion some stickers and apply to all my autos and gear.

  35. How did this myth about “Neanderthals eating only mean” begin anyway, from cartoons showing cavemen chomping on giant turkey legs? Seems pretty obvious to me that delicious fruit hanging from a tree would be as irresistible to a Neanderthal, Cromagnon, etc. as to any of us.

  36. While there are many vegetarian traditions around the world. I can find no evidence that any culture, anywhere, eats a traditional vegan diet. It’s easy for modern humans, with access to world foods and dietary supplements to go vegan than it would have been for any paleo-culture, whose dietary choices were more limited. Everyone
    talks about how Indian food is always vegetarian, but is it vegan? Are there any cultures anywhere who have been eating a vegan diet for thousands of years?

  37. B12 synthesis is one of the functions of bacteria in the small intestine. I don’t know whether it is settled as to whether you can get all of your B12 that way, and even if it was, it is surely something that varies from individual to individual, because each person hosts a distinct complement of bowel flora. Modern humans are so sanitary that we typically have diminished flora — 40 or fewer genera instead of 100 or so. Do a web search for “B12 bacteria gut” and you will surely find yourself entertained and can draw your own conclusions. I learned of this from “Good Germs, Bad Germs,” by Jessica Snyder Sachs. Amazing and well-researched book. Covers all sorts of essential functions of the body’s bacteria, including immune system response and lots of digestive issues. ~Brian Hill

  38. So they had grains stuck between their teeth at the moment they died?
    I don’t know about you guys, but I’d say we’ve just found evidence for grains being the killer.

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