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.