New evidence suggests some Neanderthals were vegetarians… like way before you were a vegetarian, so relax about it. Neanderthals were the OG vegetarians. Some scientists study cancer, some study the cosmos, and some scientists study… caveman teeth.
NPR recently reported on archaeologists citing evidence from Neanderthal dental plaques which they scraped off and analyzed. These are weird incisors from around 50,000 years ago. 50,000 year old teeth. Wild.
European Neanderthal diets, researchers say, turned up “evidence of woolly rhino (and) wild sheep. The researchers also found evidence of mushrooms”. During this time period, popular dishes consisted of “woolly rhinos, mammoths, horses and reindeer”. Different regions offered our simple ancestors different menu options. Were vegetarian cavemen vegetarians because of a lack of meaty prey? In parts of Spain their diets were rich in pine nuts, moss, tree bark, and mushrooms. No meat.
It is actually easier to imagine a pack of gnarly Neanderthals huddled around a poorly constructed fire with a pile of leaves and bark, than it is to imagine them carving and preparing woolly rhino cutlets. Essentially though, we’re all a product of our environment. Coastal cavemen probably lived off the bountiful sea, with fish and mussels leaping onto shoreline griddles.
I don’t know much about Neanderthals, but if we can surmise through dental scrapings of 50,000 years ago, that these guys were more into mushrooms than mammoths, then we’re doing pretty well. Researchers mentioned that not everything we eat is embedded in our “calculus”. So, there are likely portions of the Neanderthal’s diet that will remain shrouded for the time being.
What are they going to say about our “dental calculus” in about 50 years? “Well here you can see this man ingested a lot of crackers and cheese, and pistachio nuts, in addition to frequent Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxes.”